Houston Dynamo not losing focus ahead of Sunday's match at LA Galaxy
Dominic Kinnear has not watched the game again. Hasn't thought about it. Nor has Corey Ashe. The message as the Dynamo return to the scene of last December's MLS Cup defeat is that Sunday's clash is not about revenge for 2012. It's about making a statement of intent for 2013.
Quick recap: the Dynamo led the LA Galaxy 1-0 at halftime in last year's final through Calen Carr's 44th-minute goal. Carr suffered a serious knee injury in the second period and the momentum instantly shifted in favor of the home side, who replied with a 60th-minute header from Omar Gonzalez and a Landon Donovan penalty kick soon afterwards.
Robbie Keane added another from the spot in stoppage-time to complete a 3-1 win as the Galaxy beat the Dynamo at The Home Depot Center to claim MLS' grand prize for the second year in a row. It was a devastating outcome from a match that, until Carr's exit, had promised so much. But ahead of Sunday's regular-season clash in southern California, Ashe wants to leave history firmly in the past.
THIS WEEK: LA Galaxy
"It's something that we don't think about. Last season and the season before, it doesn't matter. This is a new season, it's a new team, our main objective is to go in there and get three points," the left back told HoustonDynamo.com.
Kinnear believes there is no real value in analyzing what happened five months ago in gray and chilly Carson.
"To go back to December is a little bit too far back for me. There's been a lot of games in-between for both teams," the head coach said. "Things have changed. The goalkeeper's changed, the midfield's changed a little bit. They had Christian Wilhelmsson and David Beckham and those guys aren't there any more. You could look at it from the back four's point of view. But you have to worry about your game first."
Ashe agrees, despite the serious threat posed by LA's two Designated Players in particular.
"As a defense we have to know where Keane and Donovan are at all times. They've got a lot of playmakers, a lot of dangerous players - but we can't change the way that we're going to play. We're not going to go back and sit in, we're going to go and attack and it's going to be a hard-fought game," he said. "We've just got to work hard, dictate the flow of the game and try not to turn the ball over in bad areas."
With Dynamo captain Brad Davis suspended after receiving a red card in last Sunday's 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids, Andrew Driver looks set to start on the left wing. The Englishman only joined Houston in the off-season but Ashe feels they have already established a solid rapport.
"I like playing with him: very versatile, can play on the left or the right and more importantly he's a hard worker," the defender said. "For the 90 minutes you know you're going to get a good shift from him. He and I, I think we work well together. I know what he likes to do, he knows what I like to do and coming into Sunday's game that's going to be very important."
LA demonstrated their strength in depth with a road victory over Real Salt Lake last Saturday secured even though several veterans were missing through injury. The Galaxy sit second in the Western Conference with 14 points from seven fixtures. Last year, at the same stage they had collected only ten points.
"Young guys go through moments in MLS where their confidence is very high, and sometimes it's not so great. Those guys have definitely started on a high so it looks like the mood in the locker room is very good," said Kinnear. "Are they as deep as last year? Possibly so. It's really early to tell. Those guys to go to Salt Lake and get a 2-0 win with guys like [Jack] McBean and [Charlie] Rugg leading the forward line, and [Gyasi] Zardes coming in for McBean. It shows the desire from those guys to win, it's a very competitive group."
McBean is injured but the U.S. under-20 international Jose Villarreal might start for a team that also features ex-Dynamo midfielder Colin Clark. Keane, Donovan, Todd Dunivant and former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini could also return from injury.
No Galaxy player has more than one MLS goal this season save for Mike Magee. The versatile forward is the league's joint-top scorer, with six. He receives far less media attention than Keane or Donovan but there is no danger of the Dynamo overlooking him this weekend.
"He's always been a good finisher and he puts himself in good spots. He plays a number of positions for them. He's not the tallest but he gets his head on a free kick and scores goals. He's a smart player, he's brave and technically in and around the box he's very good," said Kinnear.
Sunday's match pits two of the most experienced and successful MLS coaches against each other. Talking to reporters earlier this week, Bruce Arena praised the "outstanding job" his counterpart has done with the Dynamo down the years. Kinnear returned the compliment on Friday, paying tribute to Arena's team-building skills and the way he has brought stability to a club with dazzling star power.
"I enjoy his company, he's a good person. [Coaching-wise] you can't question what he's done - he's been successful everywhere he's gone," said Kinnear. "Obviously they're a glamorous team, they've brought in some big stars, but the main thing is getting those guys to play as a team... he had Keane, Donovan, Beckham all together, those guys played as a good unit."
Depending on Sunday's results, Houston's first win over the Galaxy at The Home Depot Center since 2007 could send the Dynamo to the top of the Eastern Conference. With the Galaxy unbeaten at home in MLS so far this year, it would be an impressive way for the Dynamo to claim their first away victory of the season. And a big boost to the team's self-belief as they bid to reach MLS Cup for the third year in a row - and this time, produce a performance they'd want to see again and again.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.