In the lead-up to the MLS Cup final (Sunday, 9 pm ET/6 pm PT, ESPN, Galavision, espn3.com, live chat on lagalaxy.com/gamedaylive) at The Home Depot Center, in Carson, Calif., MLSsoccer.com is breaking down the matchup. To date, we've looked at the benches [READ MORE] and goalkeepers [READ MORE]. Today, we breakdown the defenses.
Combined, LA and Houston have conceded just three goals in six playoffs games. Both have well established central defenders and attacking fullbacks who can supplement the midfield.
Gonzalez: Defender of the Year
The Galaxy posted a .82 goals against average and recorded an MLS record-tying 17 clean sheets this season. They are especially tough to break down at The Home Depot Center, where they put up 10 of their shutouts and did not lose a single game all year.
In Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza, LA have a pairing that dovetail superbly. The longtime teammates -- they played together in college and now in the pros -- have an almost telepathic understanding at times, as MLS Defender of the Year Gonzalez attacks balls while DeLaGarza’s pace allows him to sweep up behind. Todd Dunivant at left back has been the best in the league this season and has gone from strength to strength as the postseason has unfurled. Right back Sean Franklin has also been solid and dependable.
The LA defense also benefits from the acres of space that holding midfielder Juninho dominates, providing cover for David Beckham and the rest of the LA attackers.
Houston also proved more than passable defensively in 2011. Their 1.20 goals against average is not intimidating, but that doesn't take into account the lineup shift coach Dominic Kinnear installed in mid-September when usual midfielder Geoff Cameron moved to the back to team up with Bobby Boswell in the center. Since then, the Dynamo have conceded only six goals in nine matches, including the playoffs.
GOAL: Hainault puts HOU up 1-0
Corey Ashe and Andre Hainault have performed reliably on the flanks. However, in the final Ashe may move up midfield for the injured Brad Davis, with Jermaine Taylor coming in for him at left back. Losing Ashe’s attacking ability at left back may be a problem, however he will help Taylor out defensively, which should counter Landon Donovan on LA’s right flank.
For Houston, midseason acquisition Adam Moffat plays the Juninho role, and has proven prefectly adept at handling opposing playmakers, such as Sporting's Graham Zusi in the Eastern Conference Championship.
One other fact worth noting is Houston’s scoring prowess from their defenders. Boswell and Cameron each have five goals, while Canadian international Hainault has scored twice in three playoff games so far.
But if set pieces aren't working for Houston, can the Dynamo -- without Brad Davis -- really expect to unlock the LA backline?
Houston's defense is on form, but LA's has been historic.