(Courtesy of Chron.com)
With the Dynamo and the Los Angeles Galaxy set to battle in today’s Western Conference final in Carson, Calif., a look at the teams’ key players and how they match up:
F Brian Ching – The Dynamo’s all-time leading scorer, the 31-year-old striker proved he’s as clutch as ever by scoring the game- and series-winner against Seattle on Sunday.
It might take another special goal by him to lift the Dynamo to the MLS Cup final. He will take punishment against a physical center-back duo.
M Stuart Holden – Young and technically gifted, Holden, 24, has become an integral part of the Dynamo’s attack in first year as a starter. The Dynamo will need a big spark on offense from him, as well as his usual commitment to defense.
M Ricardo Clark – One of the best defensive midfielders in the league, the 26-year-old Georgia native never tires on the field and will be responsible for shutting down David Beckham and his passing.
X-factors: F Dominic Oduro and M Brad Davis
Over the past three games, Oduro, 24, has raised his game and become key to the team’s offensive approach with his field-stretching speed; Davis, 28, is coming off a career year that earned him team MVP honors. His crosses from the left side, missing against Seattle, could prove the difference.
M/F Landon Donovan – Hands down the best player in MLS, Donovan, 27 and a staple of the U.S. national team, has a league record-tying 16 playoff goals. Opponents fear him because of his propensity for the brilliant.
M David Beckham – At 34 the English star remains one of the best crossers in the world. Hugely competitive and talented, he can find the open man with pin-point accuracy.
GK Donovan Ricketts – A league newcomer, the 32-year-old Jamaican is one big reason the Galaxy are where they are thanks to some phenomenal stops.
X-factors: Mike Magee and Edson Buddle
Both are quality players who tend to be underrated. Buddle, 28, has put forth a workman-like effort to close the season and will be looking for feeds from Beckham and Donovan.
The Galaxy are where they are in part thanks to Donovan Ricketts, who has been brilliant this season. Pat Onstad is coming off what he labeled one of his best years.
Both posted impressive numbers, but the Dynamo back line gets the edge because of its center-back tandem of Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron and because L.A.’s physical corps lack speed. The Dynamo will be without Mike Chabala (suspension), which puts pressure on likely replacement Wade Barrett to fit in quickly and rise to the occasion.
Much like against Seattle, the Dynamo have the more balanced group. But if Bruce Arena fields midfielder/forward Landon Donovan out wide, like he’s been doing, then the Galaxy have the advantage because of Donovan’s qualities. David Beckham’s passing and crossing abilities add to L.A.’s threat.
After witnessing Brian Ching’s heroics and Dominic Oduro’s play last week, it is easy to see why the duo has to have the Galaxy worried. L.A. has Edson Buddle and Mike Magee, two effective strikers (though Magee is more of a midfielder) who often fly under the radar. If we were to include Donovan as a forward, the Galaxy would have the edge.
The Galaxy have talented midfield depth with the likes of veterans Eddie Lewis, Alan Gordon and Jovan Kirovski. The Dynamo have enjoyed having forwards Luis Landin and Cam Weaver provide a boost off the bench. Landin was particularly good last time out.
Former U.S. coach Bruce Arena was recently named MLS Coach of the Year after doing a terrific job overhauling the Galaxy during the offseason and turning them into winners. Dominic Kinnear has his team in the conference final for the third time in four years.
DYNAMO WILL WIN IF
They get off to a strong start, maintain order defensively while adjusting to a bigger field, limit Beckham’s time on the ball, deny Donovan space, stretch field and capitalize on chances.
GALAXY WILL WIN IF
They are allowed to dictate the action, back line clamps down on Ching and Oduro, Beckham is able to move the ball and Donovan provides trademark brilliance.
Dynamo win 2-1 in extra time and advance to MLS Cup final.