Los Angeles Soccer: Brian Ching
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.”
The Chicago Fire split a pair of games Saturday morning at Oxnard College, bringing to an end a series of 20 preseason matches involving Major League Soccer clubs in Carson and Oxnard.
Three more games were played in San Luis Obispo, and Chivas USA has a ticketed game Wednesday night in San Diego against Mexico's Club Tijuana.
Eight clubs, including Chivas and the Galaxy, trained this month at Home Depot Center or Oxnard College, several of them at both sites.
The San Jose Earthquakes beat the Fire, 2-0, in Oxnard's main stadium Saturday, with Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart and Brad Ring scoring first-half goals. The Fire rallied from a first-half deficit to beat the Ventura County Fusion, 2-1, on an adjacent field. Woodland Hills' Orr Barouch converted a penalty kick and set up Pari Pantazopoulos' strike to lift Chicago.
Thousand Oaks' Danny Barrera, who was in camp for the Fire, scored on a free kick, his second such goal in as many games. Barrera, a former UC Santa Barbara standout who is contracted to a Serbian club, scored a superb goal in the Fusion's loss Friday to the Montreal Impact at Home Depot Center.
BEST OF THE CAMPS: All in all, the soccer on display wasn't great. Everyone's in preseason form, which means lagging fitness, too many mistakes and too many connections still being made. Some matches were interesting only because you could hear everything said on the field, including a fair share of expletives. (Yes, you can swear in soccer, so long as you don't direct it at the ref.)
All that said, here were some of the good things we saw during the games in L.A. and Ventura counties:
BEST TEAM: The Portland Timbers clicked better than everyone else, with Cameroonian trialist Franck Songo'o leading one of the few attacks that appeared ready for the season to start. Portland went 3-0-1, scored four on the Galaxy and two against Houston and Chicago.
BEST PLAYER: It might be Songo'o. Or his teammate James Marcelin, a monster in midfield. We also liked what Sanna Nyassi brings to Montreal's attack, Michael Lahoud's and Ryan Smith's play on Chivas USA's flanks, and the effort Adam Cristman brings up front for the Galaxy. L.A. newcomer Marcelo Sarvas' vision and touch also impresses, and Oswaldo Minda is clearly going to be a solid midfield anchor for Chivas. If we have to pick one ... it's Songo'o.
CARSON -- The expansion Montreal Impact got a lot of work done in a nearly two-week stay at Home Depot Center, a good deal of it away from the field.
They finished this swing of their preseason camp Friday with 90-minute games against UCLA (a 0-0 draw) and Ventura County Fusion (a 3-1 victory), but what's been going on off the field has been far more interesting.
The Impact on Thursday traded veteran striker Brian Ching back to the Houston Impact for a conditional first-round selection in next year's SuperDraft. They topped that Friday, shortly after their games on one of Home Depot Center's training fields, by taking former U.S. national team forward Eddie Johnson through the league's allocation dispersal process, then trading him to Seattle for top young attackers Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle.
It wrapped a wild week that started with Montreal's announcement that Ching, who played last week at HDC against his former Houston teammates, had departed camp for “personal reasons.” Turned out he was in Houston negotiating a new deal, one that would significantly trim his salary -- he'll make $250,000 rather than $450,000, The Houston Chronicle reported -- but allow him an expected final season with the club he's identified with as they open a long-awaited stadium.
“This is where I want to be, where I want to retire ...,” Ching told The Chronicle. “I know how old I am, and I've been around the league long enough to know my value. I have no problem. I just want this team to be successful, and I'll do what it takes. If that means less money, that means less money. Me taking less money allows me to be here where I want to be, allows me to open up a stadium that I've always dreamed of doing. That's rewarding enough for me.”
Ching, 33, considered retirement after Montreal surprisingly took him in November's expansion draft. Trade talks between the Dynamo and Montreal began almost immediately, and the Hawaii-born forward reported to the Impact's camp last month and last week said the idea of playing for Canada's third Major League Soccer franchise was “definitely growing on me. Obviously, it was a very emotional time when it all happened. But I've been with the team for about a month now and enjoy playing with the guys, enjoy the project of trying to build a competitive team here.”
Impact coach Jesse Marsch was asked if the Impact had received enough in the trade with Houston.
“I don't think it went the way we all thought it was going to go, whether he was going to stay or go. But in the end, it was just so difficult,” the former Chivas USA captain told ESPN Los Angeles. “He committed himself wholly, professionally to being here, but you also could see that his mind was still in Houston.
Brian Ching has played one game against Major League Soccer opposition for the Montreal Impact, and he might play no more.
The veteran forward and Houston Dynamo icon has left the MLS expansion club's camp at Home Depot Center for South Texas, where he's negotiating a new deal with his former club, the first step in an expected trade.
The Houston Chronicle reported Monday that Ching received permission from the Impact, which grabbed the former U.S. national-teamer in November's expansion draft, to work out an agreement with the Dynamo. He's due to make $450,000 this season and likely will accept a deal worth less than half of that to return to the club.
“We think there's light at the end of the tunnel, in terms of what a trade agreement or what a trade with Montreal would look like,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti told The Chronicle. “Given the nature of those talks, we've been given permission to gauge those talks with Brian's agent about restructuring his contract to work him in under the salary cap.”
There has been no indication of what Montreal wants or would receive in a trade.
Ching's response: “Are you sure I don't need a helmet?”
That's about as emotional as it got for the Montreal Impact's veteran forward, who was forced in November to leave Houston for Major League Soccer's newest club against his (and the Dynamo's) will, and wasn't shy about saying so.
On Wednesday, some 2½ months after Montreal plucked him in the expansion draft, he took on his former 'mates in a preseason friendly on one of the training fields outside Home Depot Center's main stadium. He played the first 45 minutes, battling Boswell and fellow center back Geoff Cameron with some success but few real opportunities, then watched the Dynamo score twice in the second half for a 2-0 victory.
How weird was it for him?
“Ah, playing against the old team,” he said after the Impact's first game as an MLS club against an MLS club. “I know all those guys. I've played against them every day. I guess you could say it's a little weird, but not really, at this point.”
He said he never mistook an orange-shirted player for a teammate, that there wasn't much conversation with Boswell and Cameron, and that he knows the emotions will be far stronger when the teams meet for real June 23 in Montreal and, especially, July 21 and Oct. 6 in Houston.
“It will definitely be weird,” he says. “This is just a preseason game.”
DYNAMO ICON: Perhaps not just any preseason game. Ching, 33, had been the iconic face of the Dynamo since the old San Jose Earthquakes, whom he'd played for since 2003, up and moved to South Texas following the 2005 season. He led them for six seasons, through two MLS Cup title-winning campaigns and toward another championship-game appearance last year -- and played a key promotional role in the campaign that led to the downtown stadium that opens in May.
Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish on Thursday finally confirmed what everybody already knew, that he's trying to sign Galaxy forward Robbie Keane on a two-month loan deal.
McLeish is looking to bolster a Villa attack that has scored just 22 goals in 20 games, the sixth-worst total in the 20-team English Premier League.
“We're having a look at it and trying to pursue it, so that's the latest, although nothing is actually done and dusted as yet,” McLeish told reporters. “If we don't know by Monday, then it'll probably be not done. That's why I don't want to say too much, in case it doesn't happen, but we're certainly pursuing it, and at the moment both parties are keen.”
Keane, an Irish striker who signed with the Galaxy in August, is training with his former club Tottenham through Jan. 20. British wire service The Press Association reported that Villa would pay nearly $775,000 to the Galaxy.
WORTH NOTING: Nothing official on David Beckham's new contract with the Galaxy is expected for another week or so, but new Paris Saint-Germain coach Carlo Ancelotti -- who was in charge at AC Milan during the English star's first Serie A loan stint -- says he's staying with L.A. “We had the possibility to have Beckham,” Ancelotti told reporters after PSG returned to Paris following a winter break in the Middle East. “But Beckham decided to stay in Los Angeles because his family requested him.” Reports have Ancelotti now looking to bring in forward Ivorian forward Didier Drogba. ... Reports in Sweden claim former Galaxy defender Gregg Berhalter's next signing as Hammarby's head coach likely will be forward Billy Schuler, who turned down a Generation adidas contract from Major League Soccer after helping North Carolina to the NCAA title.
CARSON -- Chivas USA played one of the bigger roles in Major League Soccer's expansion draft, surrendering three players and picking up a new right back.
First-year right back Zarek Valentin, the No. 4 overall selection in last January's MLS SuperDraft, was among 10 players the Montreal Impact claimed from rivals' rosters Wednesday, and MLS's 19th club also picked up forward/midfielder Justin Braun and midfielder Gerson Mayen in a trade.
James Riley, whom Montreal grabbed from Seattle, is coming to the Goats, along with allocation money.
The Galaxy did not lose a player in the draft.
Chivas failed to protect Valentin, 20, who “graduated” last week from the Generation adidas program, changing a designation that would have left him exempt in the expansion exercise. Clubs were permitted to protect 11 players, and Montreal -- led by manager Jesse Marsch, a former Chivas USA star -- could take no more than one player off any club's roster.
Valentin, who has enormous potential, started 24 games for Chivas as a rookie, playing in the center and on the right. He came to MLS after winning an NCAA title his sophomore year at Akron. He was listed as Montreal's second choice in the draft, following Houston Dynamo captain Brian Ching, but the order of selection is manufactured; Marsch and his staff made their choices over the two days of intense study and bargaining with clubs around the league.
That's how the Braun/Mayen-for-Riley deal was finalized. A source said Marsch wanted Braun, a former teammate, who was on Chivas' protected list, and Goats coach Robin Fraser agreed to make a deal if the Impact would draft and trade Riley, 29, one of the league's top right backs, to replace Valentin. The seven-year MLS veteran has been a consistent MLS starter sine 2006, his second season, for New England, San Jose and Seattle.
Braun, 24, played in 96 games, 72 as a starter, in four seasons with the Goats, scoring 24 goals, second on the club's all-time list. Mayen (Los Angeles/Manual Arts HS), 22, played in 20 MLS matches in four seasons for Chivas; he spent most of this season on loan to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the second-tier North American Soccer League.
Montreal also selected 6-foot-5 San Jose defender Bobby Burling, a former Loyola Marymount standout who was drafted by but did not play for the Galaxy and spent 2½ seasons with Chivas USA, and Columbus midfielder Josh Gardner, who was with the Galaxy in 2004-06.
The Impact later acquired defender Tyson Wahl (Newport Beach/Newport Harbor HS) from Seattle for allocation money.
If the Galaxy are looking for a legacy from their MLS Cup triumph Sunday night over the Houston Dynamo, that might be it, and it could be meaningful.
Donovan, whose late-season slide coincided with a quadriceps injury that lingered until the week of the final, was good on the right flank, teaming with Sean Franklin to terrorize a Dynamo wing missing star Brad Davis. He was marvelous after joining Keane up front in the 57th minute, creating a mobile combination that ran roughshod at Houston's backline and connected for the game's only goal.
Donovan is the best forward this country has produced, has spent most of his career up top -- he's the U.S. national team's all-time goals leader (with 46) and No. 3 on the MLS list (with 115) -- and provides dimensions on the frontline that he can't when he's positioned on the right flank. He and Robbie Keane, who was marvelous in the final, would be the most dynamic front duo in MLS.
Donovan transitioned to midfield last season, and he's among MLS's elite attacking midfielders -- and has shown himself a more-than-capable defensive presence, too. He always had a knack for providing his teams what's needed, whether or not it requires his greatest gifts. Dynamo forward Brian Ching, Donovan's former U.S. and San Jose Earthquakes teammate, talked about his selflessness during the postgame news conference.
“That’s the thing about him. He’s not going to complain as long as he’s on the field,” Ching said. “It’s his unselfishness at times. Maybe he’s too unselfish at times. But he’s a great player and, of course, if he probably played up front, he’d probably score a little bit more goals, but you don’t see him complaining about not playing up front.”
Donovan had not scored from the run of play since Sept. 9, and with Chad Barrett sidelined because of a dislocated foot, coach Bruce Arena's plan was to move him to forward about an hour in. Chris Birchall's energy was a boost on the right, Donovan was a clear upgrade over Adam Cristman up front, and L.A.'s command grew more pronounced.
Houston coach Dominic Kinnear has heard the mutters that Donovan's effectiveness is waning and doesn't buy it. Neither should fans.
“He's a great player,” Kinnear said. “I think the questions about Landon and whatever really seem silly to me. What he’s done for American soccer, domestic and international, we all benefit from it. The guy’s a fantastic player. He’s a model person off the field. Any team in MLS would want him.
“When you have a guy like that in your team, you have a good chance to win games. And he tries hard defensively, which is all you can ask of someone.”
As we see more and more of Keane, who in some quarters was a clear winner of the title-game MVP award that went to Donovan, we're seeing how massive are the subtleties to his game. He's a superb passer, makes astounding space-opening runs, combines and can go 1-on-1 at defenses. What might he do lined up next to Donovan?
WORTH NOTING: No news yet on a championship celebration. Expectations were for something Tuesday at HDC or L.A. Live downtown, but the only word we've heard is that there's no word. Something Wednesday is likely. ... The best figure from the Galaxy's triumph is $12.2 million: the combined compensation for Donovan, Keane and David Beckham, the pivotal figures in L.A.'s victory over Houston. That's three times what the entire Dynamo team is paid. ... Most intense moment in the postgame news conference might have come after Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl asked Beckham whether people in Europe understood how difficult it is to win a championship in MLS. Beckham, who was unhappy with Wahl's treatment of his 2008 season with the Galaxy in The Beckham Experiment, finished his answer by staring at Wahl, seated in the front row (next to me, actually). “It's always nice to have doubters along the way,” he said, “and it's always nice to prove them wrong.” ... Some 48 Dynamo fans traveled 28 hours by bus to watch their team in the final. ... The Galaxy depart this weekend for their three-game postseason tour of Indonesia, Philippines and Australia. These will be the final games for defender Gregg Berhalter, who is retiring as a player -- and perhaps Jovan Kirovski, too? He is expected to continue as an assistant coach for L.A.
- 2006/FRISCO, TEXAS
(Dynamo win on penalties, 4-3)
The first 90 minutes? Blah. Overtime? Electrifying! With “golden goal” dead, Taylor Twellman's strike 23 minutes into overtime did not give the Revs the victory, and Brian Ching's header 71 seconds later sent the game to the penalty spot. Twellman and Ching converted in the shootout, which went to Houston when Jay Heaps -- hired last week as New England's head coach -- was saved by Pat Onstad.
The Dynamo made it 2 for 2 after the move from San Jose (and 4 for 7, including the Earthquakes' titles) behind Dwayne De Rosario, who fed Joseph Ngwenya's 61st-minute equalizer and scored the 74th-minute winner. The Revs hit Bills/Vikings territory with their fourth MLS Cup loss, all in overtime or on PKs.
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.
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.