CARSON, Calif. – After the celebrations were over in Washington and the Dynamo dedicated their undivided attention to MLS Cup, Houston’s director of soccer operations, Nick Kowba, sat down with Dominic Kinnear to determine when the team would arrive in Los Angeles.
Kinnear didn’t take long to make a decision. Wednesday seemed like a no-brainer, an arrival date which would give the Dynamo plenty of time to get settled and handle the myriad duties that accompany their appearance in Saturday’s MLS Cup final (3:30 pm CT; ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
But then Kinnear boarded the plane back to Texas and the locker room’s elder statesman spoke up. And plans changed.
“I got in the airplane, sat next to Brian Ching and told him we were going to go in on Wednesday," Kinnear said at Friday's final pregame press conference. "He said, ‘How about Thursday?’ And I said, ‘We’re going in on Thursday.' That was it. At this time of year, we always, as a staff, make a conscious decision to let the players have the run of schedule within reason because it’s their time. They’re the reason why we’re here, and you have to make to make sure preparation involves taking their thoughts and their wants into consideration.”
And from Ching’s perspective, it was all about minimizing distractions.
The 11-year MLS veteran and three-time MLS Cup winner saw his teammates get caught up in the hoopla in 2011, and knew Houston’s mentality had to be all business if they wanted to avenge a 1-0 Galaxy victory that saw the home side lift the Cup at the Home Depot Center.
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“It was a decision of ours to come here and treat it like a normal game,” Ching said after training on Friday. “I think last year we had a lot of guys that had never been in a big game situation like that before. They never really got in the game. I don’t think we had that confidence going in.”
What they don’t know this time around – and have no interest finding out – are the details surrounding the parties, galas and red-carpet opportunities that are part and parcel of MLS Cup week, as legions of fans, sponsors, league staff and locals celebrate the league’s marquee event.
“We’re not getting into the hype of the parties and all that other crap that we were doing last year,” said defender Bobby Boswell, the team’s emotional leader. “It’s more like a serious business trip than a fun weekend. We’re here to get a job done and we’re getting out of here right after the game.”
There won’t be many distractions until the ball’s kicked off, either. That’s by design.
By arriving late Thursday night, Houston avoided a prolonged media frenzy, allowing the spotlight to focus almost exclusive on David Beckham and the Galaxy. They’re also staying in Torrance, just west of the Home Depot Center and a bit removed from the bright lights of Los Angeles and Hollywood.
They’re focused on one thing this time around, and the hope is that self-imposed single-mindedness will translate into a different result come Saturday afternoon instead of a repeat of the one that broke Houston hearts the last time around.
“Last year, there were a lot of things going on. LA Live here, here, here,” Corey Ashe said. “We’re staying out in Torrance. It’s just us. That’s kind of the way Dom wants it to be. He doesn’t want our attention being sidetracked. I think he wants us to focus on the game. Coming in Thursday night late, team meal and staying where we’re staying is great. Everybody is focused and ready for tomorrow.”