CARSON, Calif. – The match up in the MLS Cup may be the same, but the LA Galaxy know that the Houston Dynamo are a significantly different team this season than they were when they fell 1-0 to LA in the 2011 final.
When the final kicks off next Saturday, Houston will bring a high-powered squad to The Home Depot Center, one that includes midfielder Brad Davis—who missed the 2011 MLS Cup with a torn right quadriceps –, electric Honduran midfielder Boniek Garcia and midfielder Ricardo Clark, among others.
After a dominating performance that saw them slice through the Eastern Conference, the Galaxy are well-aware that they will face a challenge from Houston next Saturday.
“They're a better team,” Mike Magee said when asked about how this Houston team compares to the 2011 edition “They're definitely a better team. They've got more speed and, obviously, having Brad Davis back is going to help them. They got [second-year forward] Will Bruin scoring a ton of goals. They know what it's like [to be in a final] and they're similar to us in terms of experience and leadership, which is something we can't overlook.”
The experience of being in the final isn’t the only parallel that the two teams share as both advanced through the Knockout Round with Houston traveling on the road to defeat the fourth-ranked Chicago Fire. From there, the Dynamo defeated the Conference’s top-seed Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference Semifinal before advancing past D.C. United in the Conference Championship to reach MLS Cup. While the Dynamo were mowing through the East, the Galaxy bypassed Vancouver Whitecaps FC in their Knockout Round match before defeating the Supporters' Shield winning San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC for the right to play for MLS' ultimate prize.
“They’re the same as us,” said Magee. “They definitely had their backs against the wall with that play-in game like we had. They definitely have a good story going.”
Although Houston began the postseason as the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference, with the second-lowest point total among all teams in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the Dynamo boast head coach Dominic Kinnear, who is one of two head coaches to lead his team to back-to-back MLS Cup titles, performing the feat during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
The only other coach to repeat as champions? Current Galaxy boss then D.C. United head coach Bruce Arena from 1996 to 1997.
“Houston's not a team you want to overlook, no matter what seed they were," said Magee. “I think you always kind of get a feeling like they were going to win [the Eastern Conference], and any time Kinnear puts a team out there, they're going to give it their all. He's one of the best coaches the league's seen. You know what you're going to get. You're going to get a battle, and you've got to prepare for that.”
While the MLS Cup promises to be a battle, Magee believes LA stack up well with the Dynamo.
“I like my match up. I like all our match ups,” said Magee. “We’ve kind of proven in big games, we have players that can step up and rise to the occasion so I’m not worried about us.”