Los Angeles Soccer: Brad Davis
Everything is beating up on the Galaxy these days, and it was the heat's turn Saturday afternoon. L.A. wilted in the Houston humidity and watched another early lead disappear to fall to the Dynamo, 2-1, in an MLS Cup rematch.
Edson Buddle ended a 2½-month drought with a fine goal in the 10th minute, but the Galaxy -- missing Juninho in addition to Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane -- offered little else aside from David Beckham set pieces as their winless streak reached seven games, longest in more than three years.
A bit of misfortune cost L.A. the first goal and Houston's set-piece supremacy paid off with the winner six minutes into the second half, and the Dynamo (4-3-4, 16 points) remained unbeaten in front of another sellout crowd at new BBVA Compass Stadium.
The Galaxy (3-8-2, 11 points), who will sit in the Western Conference cellar at least until their next league match June 17, have lost five of their last six games and are off to their worst 13-game start since 2006 and third-worst in club history. They've dropped more MLS games this season than in any of the past three full campaigns.
The heat -- 91 degrees with the index well into triple figures -- played the biggest role on the match, sapping both teams' energy, but more so the Galaxy, which isn't used to the climate. The game was virtually finished when Andre Hainault headed home Brad Davis' corner kick for a Dynamo advantage, and L.A., even with substitutions, was pressed just to keep up throughout the second half.
“Whoever scheduled these game in Houston at 3 o'clock in the afternoon doesn't know anything about the game,” Beckham told reporters afterward. “It's difficult both both teams, as much as they're used to playing in this heat, they're used to training in it. No one enjoys these games. ... It's not good for the fans, not good for the players.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena agreed.
“We should never be playing under these conditions,” he said. “The scheduling is poor. Teams playing on Wednesday [as the Galaxy did, losing to San Jose] shouldn't be traveling or playing teams that are rested on a Saturday in heat. We have to find a way to [deal with this] better. ...
“[When the league started] many years ago, we had these issues, playing early afternoon in the summer months, and it became obvious it was something we shouldn't be doing. ... We've tried to emphasize that. It's not understood yet, and, obviously, there are issues with television, but it's not fair to our teams under these circumstances. It's something that has to get corrected.”
The Galaxy came out strong, got the goal they needed, then watched everything slow down, at times to a crawl, just as expected.
CARSON -- There's plenty for Chivas USA to improve upon following its Major League Soccer opener Sunday afternoon, but the finish against the Houston Dynamo, who pulled out a 1-0 victory with nearly the last boot of the game, dampened the Goats' spirits only a smidge.
Chivas was organized, spirited and battled evenly, more or less, all afternoon with the club that played in last year's MLS Cup final, and if everything didn't quite click -- especially on attack -- there was more than enough reason for optimism.
“I'll be honest,” said midfielder Peter Vagenas, who made his Chivas debut in central midfield. “Like a lot of people, I wasn't sure what we had. ... We have character, we have heart, we fight. The soccer wasn't ideal, but let's be realistic. This team hasn't played together very much. We're facing a team that's got, I mean, how many games have Brad [Davis] and Brian [Ching] played together at this point? Right?
“At some points it was disjointed, we didn't get the service in to Juan [Pablo Angel up top], and that was frustrating, but at the end of the day we were tough, we were organized, we fought, and I promise you it's only going to get better.”
Chivas looked sharper and stronger than at any point during preseason, created four clear scoring opportunities -- with Angel volleying off a post with one and three headers, two by Angel, off-target -- and benefited from another big game by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who solved whatever problems surfaced until almost the end.
The Goats were seconds from a 0-0 draw and a share of the points, but defender Andre Hainault lifted Houston two minutes into stoppage after Davis' corner kick was cleared. It fell outside the box to Adam Moffat, who possesses a rocket shot, and his blast appeared to deflect to Hainault.
Chivas' backline was racing forward, as it should, so Hainault was left 1-on-1 with Kennedy. The finish was simple.
“It's a tough one,” said right back James Riley, one of seven players making their club debuts for the Rojiblancos. “In practice this week, our whole focus was set pieces, because we know that's what Houston lives and dies on. I thought we defended it well, guys jumped out to the second ball and tried to block it and prevent it, and it was just one of those things that are unlucky.
“That happens. For it to happen in the 90th minute was absolutely gutting. It's a cruel game sometimes. Very cruel game.”
Perhaps that played a role -- Fraser thinks so -- but the prospect of playing a real game, with something actually at stake, appears to have sent the real wake-up call.
Chivas opens its Major League Soccer campaign Sunday afternoon at Home Depot Center against the Houston Dynamo, last year's MLS Cup runners-up -- and usually one of the best teams in the league. That's got everyone at the club buzzing.
“These last few days in training, has been the first time I've felt the atmosphere change …,” backline leader Heath Pearce said, “We've sort of been going through the motions this preseason, maybe more than we should, in terms of taking it seriously or demanding results in every training and every game. But these last three days have been extremely intense. There's an aura about the team. The team's realizing just where we are right now and that the first game's on Sunday and three points are what matters now.”
The Goats are looking to return to the playoffs after missing the past two years, and there's plenty of work to be done to get there. The Dynamo provide something of a model. Fraser is a fan of what Dominic Kinnear has accomplished in Houston -- and in San Jose, before the club's move to South Texas after the 2005 season.
“They're the epitome of a hard-working blue-collar team,” Fraser said. “They don't cheat, they have players who get up on every attack and get back on every defensive play. Just to have honest players alone puts you in position to win in this league, but then they have very talented players as well.
“They're a team that's not going to give you anything, that's for sure, and you have to scratch and fight for everything you get against them, and you know that going in.”
CARSON -- Chivas USA is heading to Portland a little lighter. The club Saturday released forward Chris Cortez and left two trialists at home when it departed Sunday for the final phase of preseason.
Cortez, 23, lost his battle for a roster spot, dropping further down the depth chart with the additions of first-round draft choice Casey Townsend and just-signed Cesar Romero. The 6-foot-4 striker from Mission Viejo joined the Goats during preseason last year and made nine Major League Soccer appearances, with one start.
“We had a lot of high hopes for Chris when he came in,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles on Sunday morning. “He's a big, strong man who hits the ball extremely hard. We certainly expected him to develop quite a bit, and while he's come along, probably not as quickly as we would have needed him to.
“He definitely has qualities that will make him a big pro, for sure. It's a matter of time -- we have to make decisions as we get close to the season here, and some of the other forwards have proven to be more dangerous on a daily basis.”
Cortez made appearances in six of eight preseason games, all off the bench, and he scored in the victory over Thousand Oaks-based minor-leaguers FC Hasental. The former Cal star played in all 10 MLS Reserve League games last year, scoring five goals.
Fraser must submit by Thursday a roster of as many as 30 players, with the first 18 to 20 counting against the league $2.81 million salary cap. Some decisions likely won't be made until after that date, with trialists fighting for open spots or the club making further roster moves to accommodate additional signings.
The season begins March 11 against Houston at Home Depot Center; the roster freeze date and trade deadline don't arrive until Sept. 15.
Fraser left at home defender Mario Ledesma, from Woodland Hills, and Mexican midfielder Pablo Sandoval, who have been in camp since preseason began in mid-January. The coach said both had a chance to continue with the club when it returns after a week in Portland.
It's Colombian attacking midfielder Jose Manuel Najera and Brazilian wing/forward Alan da Silva Souza, and yes, of course.
Najera and Souza began training with the Goats last week, but the league's offices were closed for the Presidents Day weekend, so the club couldn't submit its “discovery” claims until Tuesday morning. The club asked their identities be kept secret until Tuesday.
Najera, 23, is an attacking midfielder who has played since 2006 with Real Cartagena. He has made one appearance, in 2009, for Colombia's national team.
Souza, 24, is a wide attacker who has spent most of the past six years in the Ukraine, with Metalurh Donestsk, Arsenal Kyiv and Stal Alchevsk, and most recently played in Cyprus with AEK Larnaca.
“I think that we have a couple players in who play with a bit of savvy and a bit of understanding and who are technically good as well, so they're interesting to watch,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said Monday. “[They are] guys who, as you watch them play, certainly, day by day, you can see the qualities that they have, and their understanding of how to move about the field, and both have good attacking minds, for sure.”
Fraser said the club had been following them for “maybe a month or so” and discovered them via “connections.”
“Connections, man, you've got to have connections,” he said. “You have a lot of contacts and you make a lot of contacts throughout the year, and you're in constant contact with these contacts. You always hear information about players who might be interesting or might be available or just things to keep on the radar.
CARSON, Calif. -- The best team Major League Soccer has ever seen?
Bruce Arena still doesn't want to say so, but after the Galaxy's triumph in Sunday night's MLS Cup final completed a truly exceptional campaign for American soccer's signature side, it didn't make much sense to argue.
So he didn't.
“I'd like to be able to say that, but I don't know how you do that. I just don't,” the Galaxy's head coach said after a comprehensive 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo at Home Depot Center. “I mean, this is a good team, and we've accomplished a lot this year. ... To have the regular season we had, and then throw in the CONCACAF Champions League and then to win the MLS Cup, it's a helluva accomplishment.
“I really think if I say this team belongs there, you minimize accomplishments of others. There have been some very good teams in this league. I just think we're another one of those. This is a damn good year. It really is.”
This year ended brilliantly, with the Galaxy dictating terms nearly from start to finish, getting a sweet goal from Landon Donovan with about 20 minutes to go and denying the Dynamo more than a sniff or two at the net with a superb defensive game plan.
It's the club's third MLS Cup title, to go with those won in 2002 and '05, and it played out on a chilly, rainy night in front of 30,281, the largest crowd to see a soccer game at HDC. L.A. prevailed despite wasting numerous opportunities, but its possession limited the time Houston had on the ball -- and its high pressure kept the Dynamo from providing the kind of service it needed to make a game of it.
“We just wanted to be on the front foot, which we were,” left back Todd Dunivant said. “We knew second balls on this kind of slick field was going to be important. I think we did a good job on the first balls, and I think we did a good job on the second balls. It made a big difference, because we were putting them on their heels, getting chances, getting in behind their defense, getting crosses in. We had a couple really good opportunities. Didn't come for a while, but we just kept going.”
Adam Cristman, who stepped in for injured forward Chad Barrett, had a couple of open headers he whiffed on in the first half, Mike Magee went well over the crossbar when presented an opportunity at the end of the first half, and Robbie Keane repeatedly stretched the Dynamo backline, firing just wide and seeing a goal in the 57th minute waved off by an offside flag.
Things fell into place in the 71st minute, when David Beckham -- playing perhaps his final MLS game -- nodded Dunivant's throw-in onto Keane's path heading toward Houston's goal. Keane caught his balance, stepped past Dynamo center back Bobby Boswell, then split Boswell and Geoff Cameron with a little ball for the streaking Donovan.
Donovan -- who moved up front when Chris Birchall came on for Cristman in the 57th minute -- redirected it past goalkeeper Tally Hall and inside the right post.
CARSON -- Landon Donovan finished a feed from Robbie Keane in the 71st minute, and the Galaxy completed arguably its best campaign, claiming its third MLS Cup championship with a 1-0 victory Sunday night over the Houston Dynamo.
Donovan, who had last scored in early September, slipped Keane's pass inside the far post as the Galaxy, dominant from the opening whistle, thrilled a crowd of 30,281, the largest to see a soccer game at Home Depot Center.
The Galaxy added the trophy, named after its owner, Philip Anschutz, to those won in 2002 and 2005 -- and to the Supporters' Shield they captured as Major League Soccer's regular-season champion.
Todd Dunivant's throw-in from the left wing led to the goal. David Beckham got his head to it, nodding it onto Keane's path heading toward Houston's goal. Keane stepped past Dynamo center back Bobby Boswell, then split Boswell and Geoff Cameron with a little ball for the streaking Donovan.
Donovan, who moved up front when Chris Birchall came on for Adam Cristman in the 57th minute, redirected the ball past goalkeeper Tally Hall and inside the the right post.
The goal was Donovan's record 20th in MLS postseason play and his fourth in an MLS Cup final -- to go with three scored in San Jose's 2001 and 2003 title-game wins.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho, Mike Magee; Adam Cristman, Robbie Keane. Bench: Gregg Berhalter, Chris Birchall, Paolo Cardozo, Frankie Hejduk, Jovan Kirovski, Michael Stephens, Donovan Ricketts.
Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall; Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Taylor; Danny Cruz, Adam Moffat, Luiz Camargo, Corey Ashe; Calen Carr, Brian Ching. Bench: Will Bruin, Colin Clark, Carlos Costly, Tyler Deric, Hunter Freeman, Eddie Robinson, Je-Vaughn Watson.
Whether it'll be an attack-filled classic or a defensive struggle is impossible to know. This is an intriguing matchup of size (advantage: Houston) and skill (L.A.), reliance on long balls or possession and the limits of defensive organization, which ultimately will determine who's parading the trophy at the end.
Here are two keys to victory in the final:
1. UP IN THE AIR
Geoff Cameron is 6-foot-3, fellow center back Bobby Boswell is 6-2, and forward Brian Ching is a very aggressive 6-1, and the way they go after Brad Davis' set pieces is something to behold. The Dynamo are even more dominant at the other end, with Cameron, Boswell and 6-footer Andre Hainault repelling crosses into their area.
This team thrives on the aerial game, and in Davis possessed the perfect conduit, the closest thing to a Bobby Boswell among American players. Davis' injury complicates things.
Adam Moffat, who has a rocket foot, will take the set pieces, but speedy Corey Ashe, who will take Davis' place on the left side of midfield, has a far different game. Figure Moffat to wander wide to provide service or go over the top for Ching or to take advantage of Calen Carr's pace.
Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear can call on rookie Will Bruin and Honduran star Carlo Costly, both 6-2, if he needs more targets late.
“Adam places a good ball,” Davis said. “And I've said all year we've got guys that have the desire and will to want to score goals and want to attack the ball.”
The Galaxy have occasionally struggled with their marking on set pieces, so that's been a point of emphasis in preparations.
L.A. the past two weeks has repeatedly tried to throw off the favorite's yoke, but it's not going away. Former L.A. GM Alexi Lalas, in his weekly column in Britain's Daily Mirror, asserted that “if the Galaxy were to somehow lose, it would have to be considered an undeniable disaster and, without mincing words, a failure.”
A little over the top, but absolutely true. If the Houston Dynamo lose this one, it will have been a great finish that ended in defeat to perhaps the finest side MLS has seen. If the Galaxy loses, it's a massive disappointment.
So if we have to make a prediction -- and we think this game can go either way -- we'll go with the Galaxy, 2-1. Maybe in overtime.
Bruce Arena warns against expectations.
“No idea,” he said on the eve of the Cup when asked what kind of game he expects. “I don't know how anyone ever figures that out. I know you guys [in the media] will write a story about that somehow. I have no idea what kind of game it will be.”
He said the game is about making adjustments.
“I've had games this year where I said it's important we get out to a good start and get on top of these guys, and we're down a goal in the first five minutes of the game," he said. "It's always like that. We can never choreograph what's going to happen in a game. You need players who can just think on their feet.”
The Galaxy are three seasons into a mammoth rebuild, a work of startling brilliance by Bruce Arena, America's best soccer coach doing the best work of his career.
The Dynamo are where the Galaxy sat two years ago, Arena's first full season in charge. Head coach Dominic Kinnear has made radical changes to his roster and didn't get the lineup right until September, and now -- well ahead of schedule -- his team is playing for a trophy that looked wholly out of grasp just a couple of months ago.
It's the makings of a classic MLS Cup final: two of the league's most storied franchises, led by two of the league's most respected coaches (one a former U.S. national team boss, the other a potential U.S. manager down the line), both fighting back from franchise lows and emerging just 90 minutes or perhaps 120 (and maybe penalty kicks, too) from the most coveted silverware in the American game.
Now throw in all of the side chatter -- Will David Beckham return to MLS? Oh, no, Brad Davis can't play! -- and remember the clubs share ownership. (AEG owns half of the Dynamo.)
The Dynamo have American soccer's most enduring dynasty -- four titles and three coulda-beens since 2001, starting when the team played in San Jose. And it's been pointed out a few times that this Galaxy team could be, should be -- surely is -- the finest side in league history, and that it comes in, playing at home and all, as massive favorite.
“I think this is going to be a lot better game than people expect it to be,” said Davis, the Dynamo's star winger, an MVP finalist who will sit out after tearing a quadriceps muscle in the Eastern Conference title-game triumph two weeks ago in Kansas City. “I think people expect L.A. to come out and just beat us and walk all over us. I don't think that's the way it's going to be at all.
“I think they have a very good team, but anybody knows you come down to these games, it's how you show up that day. They could be the best team all year, but I believe the mentality and the attitude and the way we've been playing of late has been some of the best that I've been on with the club.”
Davis has been with the Dynamo since their last season, 2005, in San Jose, and was a contributor to thebteams that won MLS Cups the first two seasons in Houston. Two more players -- forward Brian Ching and reserve defender Eddie Robinson -- also were Earthquakes, as were Kinnear and some of his staff.
It was the legacy started in San Jose, with MLS Cup titles in 2001 and 2003 and a Supporters' Shield in 2005, that the Dynamo sought to connect with after missing the postseason last year.
Houston followed its twin titles by winning the Western Conference in 2008 but was upset in the opening round of the playoffs. A year later, the Dynamo played for an MLS Cup berth, losing controversially to the Galaxy in the Western Conference final at the Home Depot Center. With better luck, they might have won four successive championships.
CARSON -- David Beckham missed Galaxy training again Friday, still suffering, according to coach Bruce Arena, from that pesky “cold” -- but talk that it's really a hamstring injury won't go away.
Arena used the “cold” excuse when he talked for the TV cameras following L.A.'s session at Home Depot Center, noting that he he doesn't “think David needs to train” and that “believe me, David will play on Sunday” in the MLS Cup final against Houston.
He was more succinct with the “print” media.
What's the latest on David?
“He'll be playing Sunday.”
We're hearing about a hamstring. Is there anything to that?
“He'll be playing Sunday.”
Is there anything to his hamstring?
“Yep, he does have hamstrings.”
Is it OK?
“Yep, he'll be playing Sunday.”
Beckham had been scheduled to speak Friday, but his media session was canceled.
CARSON -- Turns out David Beckham was wrong.
It's Dwayne De Rosario, not Brad Davis, who captured Major League Soccer's top award, and the voting wasn't close.
The D.C. United attacker, who won the Golden Boot as MLS's top scorer, was revealed as MVP early Friday morning, about 10 hours before a news conference scheduled to make the announcement.
Davis, whose leadership and distribution was pivotal in the Houston Dynamo's run to Sunday's MLS Cup final against the Galaxy, had widely been expected to win the honor. Beckham -- a contender who finished well below where he should have in the vote of media, players and club officials -- had said in passing nearly two weeks ago that Davis had “got the MVP, and rightly so, the service that he provides for their team.”
De Rosario almost universally was considered MLS's best player this year, lifting D.C. United into the playoff race after starting the year with Toronto FC and spending a short stint with New York. Is he the MVP? D.C. faded at the finish and missed the playoffs -- De Ro is the first MLS MVP from a club that didn't reach the postseason -- while others (Davis and Philadelphia's Sebastien Le Toux, perhaps most of all) pulled their clubs into favorable positions during the stretch drive.
De Ro's quality won out over context, and he won among all three voting blocs, massively among his peers, who gave him 26.38 percent of the vote and nobody else above 9 percent.
De Rosario weighted score was 72.72, and he was followed by Davis (43.66), FC Dallas' Brek Shea (27.59), Galaxy captain Landon Donovan (26.52) and Seattle's Mauro Rosales (19.30).
Shea drew more players' votes than did Davis, who was close to De Rosario (25.91 percent to 21.24 percent) in the media balloting. Donovan finished third in the club vote, tied with Davis for third in the player vote but received only 5.18 percent of media support.
The Galaxy haven't lost at home this year. They haven't lost any match at HDC, going 17-0-6, including the road game against Chivas USA, three CONCACAF Champions League victories, and the friendly with Manchester City.
Think that's intimidating? Not for the Dynamo.
Houston went 15 road games without a victory this season, finally winning at FC Dallas on Sept. 24. They've been perfect away since, winning at Portland in mid-October then claiming playoff victories at Philadelphia and, in the Eastern Conference title game, at Sporting Kansas City.
“Before the playoffs started, we were pretty [poor] on the road,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear noted during the MLS Cup news conference Thursday afternoon at the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown L.A. “It took us 16 games to get our first road win this year. It wasn't due to lack of playing well -- sometimes we didn't, and sometimes we did, but results didn't go our way.”
The victory at Dallas “gave us a lot of confidence” and the victory in Portland “was crucial for us,” Kinnear said.
And it all paid off in the postseason.
Brad Davis returned to Houston Dynamo training Tuesday, but he was just watching. Major League Soccer's MVP favorite is out of Sunday's MLS Cup final against the Galaxy at Home Depot Center -- it's official now -- but says he's anxious for the battle to begin.
“It's going to be a tough match, but the way we're playing of late, I have full confidence that it's going to be a good game, and I know we can beat this team ...,” Davis told Major League Soccer's website. “As hard as it is to know I'm not going to be able to play, I still have the anxiousness from when we've been there a couple of times.
“I'm excited, and I know these guys are looking forward to it. These are the last few days, and they seem to take forever.”
Davis, a playmaking winger who won MLS Best XI acclaim and is expected to collect the league's MVP honor Friday, suffered a torn quadriceps muscle in the Dynamo's victory at Sporting Kansas City in the Nov. 6 Eastern Conference final.
“I don't need surgery,” he said, “but it's going to take a little while longer than expected. It's a little bit of misfortune, but this is our last game, so I'll have plenty of time to recover.”
POWER SURGE: The last time the Galaxy and Houston met in a winner-take-all match, power outages in the area around Home Depot Center forced delays of nearly 20 minutes in each half and a would-be winner by Dynamo defender Andre Hainault was waved off.
L.A. pulled out a 2-0 overtime victory in the 2009 Western Conference final, and the Dynamo felt like they'd been robbed.
Some feelings linger.
“We had a good team,” captain Brian Ching told The Houston Chronicle. “We definitely felt like we could have won it all that year. We had the confidence. We kind of got a bad call there, and it kind of changed the game in a bad way for us. It is tough. To get so close, and then you've got a whole year to think about it.”