The LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo meet for the first time this season on Saturday in Houston's Robertson Stadium in a rematch of last year's Western Conference championship.
The Galaxy won that meeting, 2-0, last Nov. 12 at Home Depot Center, but now they're in enemy territory against a team which has been one of the most formidable at home in MLS. No matter; the Galaxy went 2-0-1 against the Dynamo a year ago, including a 0-0 tie last Oct. 18 in Houston and are looking forward to this weekend's challenge.
Head coach Bruce Arena said there was real no secret to the Galaxy's success against the Dynamo last season.
“I'm not sure,” he said. “Sometimes you get lucky. They're a good team, among the top teams in the league for a number of years now. They have a style of play that's very difficult to match up against, especially in Houston at Robertson Stadium with the narrow field. They're a big team physically, you have to be smart and keep your concentration for 90 minutes.”
“They're always one of the most challenging teams to play against.''
Midfielder Dema Kovalenko said last year's success against the Dynamo -- Houston failed to score a goal in the three matches -- is history.
“That was last year,” he said. “This is a new game. We just have to go in again with a good approach and not change anything. We just have to be stronger mentally and defensively tighten things up. They have a very good coach and they've been at the top for a long time.
And they know how to win, especially at home.”
“We have to go in there with confidence and hope to play our game.''
Galaxy striker Alan Gordon said the key to the team's success against Houston last year could be traced to better organization, especially on defense. The likes of new goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and defenders Gregg Berhalter and Omar Gonzalez (who went to become MLS Rookie of the Year) helped cut the Galaxy's goals-allowed by one half from 2008.
“We were an organized team last year,” he said. “We stay organized and stay tough we can beat anybody. We always get up for this kind of game and we usually stay focused. If we maintain focus and keep 11 players on the field, we can do the same thing Saturday.”
Said midfielder Chris Klein, “Any time you play Houston you have to match their intensity. They're a team that no matter who's on the field they play the same way. We expect that to be the same, especially in Houston and in their stadium.”
“And especially against us, a team that ended their season last year.”
TIGER WATCH: A number of Galaxy players and coaches are going to pay particularly close attention to this week's Masters, which marks the return of Tiger Woods to the PGA Tour.
Gordon, among the Galaxy’s best golfers, said he's more curious than normal to see what will transpire this week.
“I think Tiger will be solid,'' Gordon said. ``I don't think he'll step on the course and not be prepared to play. It's all going to be a mental game, and he's shown time and time again how strong mentally he is. I'm not going to doubt him ... I'd say he winds up anywhere from 10th to 15th.”
Added Arena, “I'd be surprised if he doesn't make the cut. But making the cut in the Masters isn't easy, either. I would think he makes the cut and gets up in the top 25.
“I wish I could hit a golf ball as bad as he's going to be hitting it this week. I think he may not be sharp by his standards, but he's sharp by the standards of the PGA Tour.”
Klein, another of the Galaxy's most avid golfers and an admitted Tiger fan, said he can't wait to see him play again.
“I love watching him compete,” he said. “I never bet against him, so I think he's going to do very well. He's got as good a chance as anyone. I think he deserves that second chance to come out and show how he's changed.''