In the lead-up to the MLS Cup final (Sunday, 8 pm CT, ESPN, Galavision, TSN2) at The Home Depot Center, in Carson, Calif., MLSsoccer.com is breaking down the matchup. All week, we've been analyzing where both sides are most dangerous. Now it's time to see who's best at putting the ball in the back of the old onion bag.
With strikers full of guile and experience, MLS Cup 2011 could hinge on one predatory strike to settle the proceedings. One thing’s for certain: Both sides possess strikers who, on their day, can win games with a moment of magic.
LA have a vast array of attacking options at their disposal after another fine season in attack, finishing fifth in the MLS scoring charts with 48 goals. They have averaged two goals a game in the playoffs, yet only one of their six playoff goals has come courtesy of a striker. Robbie Keane’s swivel and low drive against Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Championship proves the quality they have up top.
Yet for the majority of the run-in and the playoffs, the front two of Keane and Chad Barrett have acted as decoys, with their clever runs and movement opening up space for Landon Donovan and Mike Magee to surge into.
With target man Adam Cristman ready to cause havoc, if selected in place of the injured Barrett, the Galaxy have some very different options up top.
Yet LA do have the top scorer in British Isles international soccer history, with 53 goals, in Keane. Barrett’s dislocated ankle, which has ruled him out of the final, could be a huge blow for the Galaxy. The bullish striker was having a career best season in points, with seven goals and five assists, and him missing MLS Cup could prove more of a problem than some may think.
The Irish Designated Player has recovered from an adductor injury to come back in menacing form for the playoffs. Keane struck the inside of the post and looked razor-sharp against New York in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Against RSL, he again struck the post, before rifling a low shot home after twisting and turning his way past Salt Lake's Jámison Olave, to make it 3-1 and effectively seal LA’s passage through to MLS Cup 2011.
However, LA’s four listed forwards — Keane, Barrett, Cristman and Jack McBean — have scored just 11 of the teams 48 goals this season. The Galaxy will need a more clinical approach from their forwards against a fired up Dynamo side if they are to prevail.
Houston, like LA, have been reliant on other areas to get goals this year as 17 different players have scored for the Dynamo this season in MLS – which means they’ve had more individual goal scorers than any other MLS team in 2011.
However, no side have a top scorer with as few goals as Houston – Brian Ching with six – which points to the Dynamo's potential lack of attacking threat from their forwards. Undoubtedly they have a huge amount of experience with Ching, who has already won three MLS Cups, two back-to-back with Houston.
Carr has also stepped up big in the playoffs, scoring that crucial goal away at PPL Park after recovering from a preseason concussion that kept him out until August.The 33-year-old Hawaiian struggled to find form throughout 2011, however the postseason has been a different story. Ching has been flying, leading the line superbly and creating chances and scoring goals. He slipped a perfect through ball to Calen Carr in the Eastern Conference Semifinal first leg against Philadelphia and then scored a header in the second leg.
The former Chicago Fire forward has added pace and a cutting edge to the Dynamo attack at just the right time of the season, starting seven of the last eight games, scoring twice. Honduran striker Carlo Costly can't be ignored either, as he showed his finishing ability with a late goal against SKC in the Eastern Conference Championship to seal the 2-0 win and the title.
With Barrett out injured, and LA relying heavily on their midfield for goals, Houston's threat from the experienced Ching and the lively duo of Carr and Costly is a big danger.
Edge: Houston Dynamo