On Saturday afternoon, the MLS nation will see what happens when the immovable object (in this case the Houston Dynamo defense) meets the unstoppable force (the star-laden LA Galaxy attack).
Houston’s defense has allowed just four goals in five playoff games, having met the challenge in three straight pressure-packed matchups. The Robbie Keane- and Landon Donovan-led Galaxy attack, averaging nearly two goals per game in the postseason and one game away from back-to-back championships, presents one big final challenge, one the Dynamo backline is not shying away from at MLS Cup 2012 (Saturday, 3:30 pm CT, ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada).
“The matchup for me, and Bobby Boswell as well, with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan is going to be good,” said center back Jermaine Taylor (above) after Monday’s training session. “Hearing all the critics and hype surrounding the game motivates me. I like stuff like that. You challenge yourself that you’ll match up against Robbie Keane, Robbie Keane will match up against me, and we are going to get it done.”
Keane and Donovan have been a highlight moment waiting to happen in the 2012 playoffs. The pair hit their stride in November, with the Galaxy forwards slicing through opposing defenses with their impeccable runs off each other and punishing them with precise finishing.
While the challenge will fall to Boswell and Taylor, many of those runs start from the center of the park, and that is where the rest of the Dynamo defense comes into play.
“Those guys are smart,” said Adam Moffat, one of the center midfielders tasked with tracking the dangerous forward tandem. “They get into those spots, where it’s in between – have I got them or has the defender got them? – and that’s what they want, to confuse opponents. They want us to be in a position where we think they have them, and then all of a sudden they make that run in behind, and neither of us has them.”
Filling those gaps in the center is just one threat the Dynamo have to worry about.
Another comes when the likes of Mike Magee and the always dangerous David Beckham get into the mix on the counterattack. LA have feasted on striking quick when the ball turns over; and Magee’s runs and Beckham’s service are at the heart of it all.
“You can’t focus on one guy; you have to be accountable for their whole team,” said Boswell. “That’s what we’ve been pretty good at, I think, being honest all over the field – honest, hard defending.”
While counterattacking is LA’s bread and butter, it is a tactic the Dynamo have seen a lot of this postseason: teams looking to catch the Dynamo slow-footed. Those teams have had little success, with Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear stressing quick reactions when the ball turns over.
“The team with quicker reaction in terms of turning over the ball and trying to get it back, that’s what’s going to count,” Taylor remarked. “Once you don’t have the ball, you have to defend, so that’s where the transition sets in. Once you don’t have it, you want to try and get it back as quick as possible and get it down and play.”
Houston’s defense has done that this postseason, helping the club double its opponents’ goal total. If the Dynamo can continue that trend Saturday, it could bring a third MLS Cup to the Bayou City.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.