The two-time defending Supporters' Shield winners LA Galaxy may be used to standing tall above the rest of the field in MLS, but they will spend a lot of time looking up at the Houston Dynamo on Sunday at MLS Cup 2011.
In fact, newly crowned MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez is the only LA player taller than six feet that is projected to be in the Galaxy’s starting lineup this weekend. Take his 6-foot-5 frame out of the equation, and there are more than a few mismatches that will favor the Dynamo.
Houston central defender Geoff Cameron (6-3), his partner Bobby Boswell (6-2), and Dynamo captain Brian Ching (6-1) enjoy a height advantage on every Galaxy player not named Gonzalez, and even 6-footer Andre Hainault is known as a threat, with two goals originating from dead balls during the playoffs.
If 6-2 Carlo Costly gets in the game — which manager Dominic Kinnear guaranteed on a Monday media teleconference — that could spell even more trouble for LA on restarts.
“We have five or six guys that feel they can score every single time on set pieces,” Ching told MLSsoccer.com after practice on Tuesday afternoon. “Not too many teams have five or six markers. I think that’s why we have so much success on our set pieces.”
News reports from Galaxy camp indicate that the Western Conference champions are genuinely preoccupied about their own ability to defend set plays, with Gonzalez himself calling it one of the team’s “weaknesses.” But in addition to the sheer number of aerial options, Ching believes it’s the way Dynamo players approach set pieces that matters more than just sheer size.
“It’s not even the height advantage,” Ching said. “It’s the way we attack the ball in the box. We believe in the service we’re going to get.”
To illustrate the point, Kinnear highlighted the game-winning goal against Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference championship game. Dynamo central midfielder Adam Moffat, who oversaw dead-ball service in the absence of playmaker Brad Davis, delivered a ball which 5-foot-10 Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor got to first, with Hainault bundling home the rebound.
It’s those ancillary runs that have caused the greatest havoc for opposing defenses, which have failed to contain the Dynamo in 2011. Houston has scored 17 of their 45 regular-season goals from dead-ball situations. That’s nearly 40 percent of its total offense.
“Andre Hainault is not the tallest guy, but he has a good attitude to attack the ball,” Kinnear said. “Your delivery of the ball is one thing, but you need the guys to have the attitude to want to attack the ball. Geoff’s tall. Bobby’s tall. But then the rest of the guys are attacking the ball around the six. It’s not all about height, but it does help.”