It's a rematch of last November's MLS Cup final, the only one scheduled this season, but that's in no way the point when the Galaxy and Houston battle Saturday afternoon at the Dynamo's brand new BBVA Compass Stadium.
Neither is the stadium, although the Galaxy -- well, some of them -- are excited to see another new Major League Soccer facility and compare it to the New York Red Bulls' and Sporting Kansas City's stadiums, the league's unquestioned gems.
More important, for both sides, is finding some semblance of the form that took them to the title game last year, which L.A. won, 1-0, in front of the home fans to win its third championship.
Landon Donovan, who made the deepest imprint that evening and scored the lone goal, isn't around for this meeting -- he's off with the U.S. national team -- and neither is star striker Robbie Keane, also on international duty. Their absence had little impact in Wednesday night's 3-2 defeat to San Jose: The Galaxy played with confidence and swagger missing through the first 13 games this year, building a two-goal lead after 73 minutes.
It all fell apart after that, but it wasn't the collapse that was on the Galaxy's mind afterward. Rather how well they had played until then.
“It's a tough pill to swallow, but we had a great performance for the most part ...,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “We'll see how we respond. We have to take it the right way and realize that we played very well. We have to learn to close the game out. ... It doesn't matter if you deserve to win or are the best team on the day. That's not how this game is won or lost. You have to do the little things the entire game.”
The Galaxy haven't and are 3-7-2 after losing only six, seven and five regular-season games the past three seasons. They haven't won in more than a month, six games in all, and have no shutouts in 14 competitive games after posting 22 in 46 matches last year.
“It's a character test,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “It's a challenge in leadership. I think you're a good leader [if you can lead] when things aren't going well -- it's real easy to lead when things are going great. We'll see the character of our players and coaching staff.”
Houston's problems aren't so pronounced. They're not scoring a lot of goals, but they're a .500 team (3-3-4) despite playing their first seven matches on the road while awaiting BBVA's May 12 opener. The Dynamo isn't in bad shape: They were 3-3-4 last year, then spent three months below .500 before finding their best form down the stretch -- the kind of campaign MLS champions are made from.
And they're still basking in their new palace, near the Astros' ballpark on the edge of downtown Houston. The reviews have been raves.
“I hear it's very nice,” reports David Beckham, “from what certain players have said and what I've heard and read about.”
Dunivant recalls that when he began his pro career in 2003, there was only one built-for-MLS stadium -- the Columbus Crew's, with Home Depot Center opening a couple of months into that season.
Robertson Stadium, the Dynamo's former home on the University of Houston campus, “wasn't their home,” he said. “It was a football stadium. There were football lines. They were tenants, not owners -- it makes a difference. And it makes a difference from a fan perspective, too. It's an entirely different experience when it's your stadium and it's built specifically for the Dynamo.
“It's going to be a great thing for Houston. It's downtown, and we've seen [in Portland and Seattle, especially] how important that is. They've done it the right way.”
How does Arena feel about it? Like he cares.
“I'm having sleepless nights over it ...,” he said, the sarcasm thickening with every word. “I'll probably be like a little kid on Christmas Eve on Friday night.”
WORTH NOTING: Donovan and the U.S. national team face Scotland on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. Houston defender Geoff Cameron also is on the final U.S. roster for the next five games, including the two World Cup qualifiers next month. ... Keane is preparing for Euro 2012 with Ireland, which meets Bosnia & Herzegovina in Dublin. ... Defender David Junior Lopes returns from a red-card suspension. ... Forward Edson Buddle, who departed Wednesday's loss with cramps, said he's fine and could have played out the game against San Jose. ... The Galaxy haven't gone a half-dozen games without a win since the last two games of the 2008 season and first five in 2009. ... The Galaxy leads the all-time series with Houston, 9-5-4, but that includes two playoff wins (the MLS Cup and the 2009 Western Conference final) and a victory in the 2006 U.S. Open Cup semifinals. ... The Galaxy is 1-3-1 -- the lone win over D.C. United -- and will have just four games left against Eastern competition, against Philadelphia (July 4 at HDC), at Chicago (July 8), at Columbus (Aug. 15) and against Toronto FC (Sept. 22 at HDC). ... L.A.'s next MLS game is June 17 against Portland at HDC; the Dynamo have already had three weekends off and will return June 10 at Vancouver. ... The Galaxy will travel from Houston to the Raleigh-Durham area for Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup third-round game against the Carolina RailHawks, from the second-division North American Soccer League.
Head coach: Dominic Kinnear
Key players: F Brian Ching, M Brad Davis, D Geoff Cameron, G Tally Hall, M Je-Vaughn Watson, F Will Bruin, D Bobby Boswell, M Adam Moffat.
Local guys: None.
Update: The Dynamo got through the seven-game road “trip” to start the season with a 2-3-2 record, although they didn't win the last five, before opening BBVA on May 12 with a 1-0 win over D.C. United. They've drawn the two games since, a scoreless draw with Portland in the first home night game and a 2-2 draw at New England in a rematch of their other two title-game appearances, victories in 2006 and 2007. They've got the makings of a potent attack, especially with Brad Davis' left foot, but he's been in and out with injury and Brian Ching, in likely his final season, isn't the scorer he once was -- and Will Bruin's emergence is still ongoing. Houston in 10 games has been shut out three times and limited to one goal on four more occasions.
Out: D Andrew Boyens (sports hernia), D Omar Gonzalez (left ACL tear).
Questionable: D A.J. DeLaGarza (right heel bruise), D Leonardo (right ACL/LCL tears).
Out: D Kofi Sarkodie (right foot sprain), G Erich Marscheider (right shoulder sprain).
Probable: F Brian Ownby (left elbow dislocation).
BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston), 11:30 a.m. PT
Referee: Silviu Petrescu
TV: NBC Sports Network (English)
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)