Next stop Hollywood.
The Houston Dynamo enjoyed their last practice session in the friendly confines of the Houston Amateur Sports Park on Wednesday ahead of their Thursday morning flight to the Los Angeles area, where a three-day whirlwind of events and activity awaits them ahead of MLS Cup 2011 on Sunday night against the star-studded LA Galaxy. A large contingent of local media was on hand to see the team off.
“This is probably the biggest MLS Cup that we’ll see,” said Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear, who will be taking part in his fifth final as an assistant or head coach. “We told the guys, 'We are going out there for a game, but make sure you open your eyes and take it in, because you never when you’re going to be back.’”
Kinnear said the team would spend more time together than is typical before a road game, but that he would try to keep things as close to normal as possible. He indicated that upon arriving in LA on Thursday, the Dynamo are likely to go for a jog and stretch at UCLA before participating in a press conference and gathering for a team dinner hosted by part-owner Gabriel Brenner.
As far as Wednesday’s training session in Houston went, there was momentary concern for forward Will Bruin, who was forced to shake off a tackle by defender Jermaine Taylor during a scrimmage. The Jamaican continued to be tested at left back, and midfielder Colin Clark also got his fair share of reps on crossing drills, which were an emphasis during Wednesday’s practice in addition to the quick-passing combination exercises that were also seen Tuesday.
The concentration placed on getting the ball out wide should come as little surprise considering the Dynamo’s size advantage against LA has been constantly referenced as one of the keys to Sunday’s title match. Regardless of any edge Houston may enjoy, Kinnear did not have any doubts as to which team will be the popular pick heading into MLS Cup.
“We understand who’s the marquee team and who’s getting the publicity. That’s fine,” Kinnear said in reference to the Galaxy. “I still think LA understands that we’re a tough team. We’re going to be tough to beat. I know where it’s at. I don’t think anyone is picking us to be the favorites. But I’m not telling the guys, ‘Hey, we’re the underdog, there’s no pressure.’ There is pressure on us. We have to try and win this game.”
Of all the playoff runs in his eight years as head coach, Kinnear admitted this year has been “the toughest one.” While the 2006 and 2007 championship sides were a “pretty impressive group,” according to him, this 2011 squad has “come from the back of the pack” to make it to the cusp of a third MLS title in six years.
“I’m loving watching these guys playing the way they’re playing,” Kinnear added. “I wouldn’t say [the odds] are stacked against us. People have been picking other teams to beat us all along the way, and I think we’ve surprised some people. People understand in sports anything can happen.”