CARSON, Calif. – When the LA Galaxy knocked Real Salt Lake out of the MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday, it was a matchup of regular-season powerhouses: The Galaxy were Supporters’ Shield winners for the second straight year while RSL accumulated the third-most points on the season.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference Championship featured two teams that finished well off the pace and had both missed the playoffs in 2010.
However, LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena scoffed at the notion that the Western Conference Championship had been, in essence, a de facto MLS Cup final.
“I would not say that at all," Arena said in the aftermath of a 3-1 Galaxy victory on Sunday night. "Houston finished second in the conference during the year, beat the hell out of us a couple of weeks ago, beat what I understood a lot of people thought a team could probably win the MLS Cup in Kansas City and deserved to win that game. They’re going to come into Los Angeles thinking they can win the next one as well. It’s going to be a real battle.”
The Galaxy will meet Houston in MLS Cup 2011 on Nov. 20 at The Home Depot Center, and regardless of what the regular-season records said, the Galaxy know they’re in for what’s likely going to be their stiffest postseason test.
Houston may not have been battling for the Supporters’ Shield like the Galaxy or Real Salt Lake, and they missed the postseason in 2010 for the first time in team history. There were even some rumblings about the job status of their coach, Dominic Kinnear, from certain impatient corners of the fanbase.
Taken as a whole, a playoff appearance seemed to be the most Houston could have hoped for, with a return to their MLS Cup glory days of 2006 and 2007 seemingly out of the question.
But the Dynamo are one of two teams left standing and will pose a monstrous challenge.
“They’re really hot,” Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee said. “They’re a team that, midseason, didn't look like they would make the playoffs, and now they spanked us on the last day of the regular season. To win a game in Kansas City is extremely difficult. They won 2-0 without arguably their best player.”
Houston’s best player – Brad Davis – left the match in the first half because of a quadriceps injury, but the Dynamo scored twice in the second half to prevail over Sporting KC at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“I was actually watching that game a little bit and Houston didn’t miss a beat when Brad came out of the game,” Arena said. “We have the greatest respect for Brad and hopefully he can recover in the next couple of weeks. … He’s had a great season. He’s an important part of the Houston team, but the little I saw – and I didn’t watch with any kind of detail – is they just got stronger and stronger in the second half.”
On Monday, Davis was named a finalist for the MLS Most Valuable Player award as he propelled his club into the postseason on the strength of a league-high 16 assists, one more than Galaxy star David Beckham.
“I hope that Brad’s playing [in MLS Cup] because he’s a great professional and has been great this season,” Beckham said. “I don't know the extent of his injury, but I hope that it's not too serious and I hope that he plays because he's a very good player, and it's disappointing if he doesn't because he's had a great season.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org