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Suck it up and root for Houston: MLS Cup Final Preview

It hardly seems like a full year has passed since the crafting of the MLS Cup Final drinking game between the bad guys and the other bad guys, yet we arrive again at another final featuring MLS’ “best.”

Emphasis on the quotation marks.

Sitting down to write, my goal had been another drinking game, a list of opportunities to boo, cheer, and imbibe, along with your fellow Union fans. In the end however, that list hardly seems necessary considering the two sides that will contest the final.

That the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh best teams failed to qualify for the final should be cause to raise a bottle of something far more potent than lager, but without the Galaxy, Beckham Watch 2012 would be far less poignant.

The only thing that could have made the build up to the final more nauseating would have been if Don Garber and Co. back at MLS deathstar HQ had schemed out a way to unleash the Geiger-tron 3000 for every Red Bulls playoff match, insuring PK and red cards galore, ultimately culminating in the star-studded finale of their dreams.

Any self-respecting soccer fan should reach for the mute button faster than the ESPN cameras veer away from David Beckham’s increasingly noticeable bald spot, as the conversation surrounding this matchup may never, in fact, make it to this matchup.

All of the Beckham/Donovan melodrama aside, there are three compelling reasons for Union fans to support the Dynamo.

Number 1 – Eastern Conference Pride

The Galaxy may have finished fourth in the much vaunted Western Conference, but they did it through their own poor play. That Bruce Arena righted the ship is more an indictment of the team’s early season quality than a testament to the might of Seattle, RSL or San Jose. On the other hand, Houston played its own part in the rotating gauntlet that was the Eastern Conference playoff race in which SKC, New York, Chicago, DC and Columbus all took turns pummeling each other in a tightly contested fight. In the end, only 6 points separated second and sixth place, with each side having a legitimate claim to their place in the postseason.

This is the task laid out for the Union, should they wish to make it to the promised land in 2013. A championship for Houston, won on the road, would remind MLS watchers that the balance has shifted, with the East proving just as skilled, while also being the more competitive and entertaining conference.

Number 2 – Oscar Boniek Garcia

Between the cries for a potent, potential DP attacker and news from new Union director of international player development that a signing from South America is imminent, Union fans should revel in the MLS success of Oscar Boniek Garcia. The Union have never pretended to be in the market for a huge name, huge dollar value designated player to increase both jersey sales and goal scoring at PPL Park. And while the Galaxy have done the business with Beckham, Donovan and Keane, Houston found in Boniek Garcia a very effective contributor without having to break the bank.

Sure, his $151,250 in guaranteed compensation for 2012 reflects only half of the entire campaign, but given the value the Honduran has added to a Dynamo side in desperate need of an offensive lift, he has been worth every penny. And this is good news for the Union, considering that Boniek Garcia arrived in MLS  not from a major European—or even South American—club, but from the Honduran League. And while Honduras is certainly a rising star in CONCACAF, there ‘s no doubting that if Boniek Garcia can make such a profound impact for the Dynamo, so too can plenty of other Central and South American players at a similar price point.

So, pulling for Boniek Garcia is a chance to root for hope. Hope that Ansaldi pays off as an international scout and hope that he can bring in similar talent to help drive the 2013 Union.

Number 3 – Leadership and the System

Like him or hate him, Dominic Kinnear’s teams get the job done. They’re well drilled in their individual responsibilities and when the Dynamo take the pitch, their game plan is rarely a secret. Instead of hiding behind flowing formational shifts and trickery, Houston dares their opponent to beat them. Given their back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006-2007 and their now back-to-back finals appearances in 2011 and 2012, the game plan seems to be working.

Peter Nowak is long gone, yet with John Hackworth still in the early stages of crafting a Union side in his image, now is a good time to look at all that Kinnear has accomplished with Houston. Consistency in tactics, formation and leadership has seen the Dynamo become a perennial contender even while having to endure the loss top players like Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, and most recently, Geoff Cameron, to Europe’s top leagues.

Brad Davis, Brian Ching, Bobby Boswell offer plenty of presence and leadership, but it is also worth noting that most of Houston’s other contributors—Tally Hall, Andrew Hainault, Jermaine Taylor, Adam Moffat, Luiz Camargo, Oscar Boniek Garcia, Calen Carr, Mac Kandji and Corey Ashe—are all in the second half of their 20s or early 30s. Surrounded by such experienced players, it is easy to understand how Will Bruin has become such a successful attacker, so quickly.

Outside of Brian Carroll, Carlos Valdes—and, hopefully, a fully healthy Bakary Soumare—the Union are a team shorn of veteran options on the pitch. As Hackworth considers his roster wants and needs, Houston is a vivid reminder that, more often than not in MLS, veterans tend to get the job done.

Enjoy!

Whoever you end up rooting for, enjoy the final. Between the hatchet tackles of Hainault and Boswell, the referee badgering of Beckham and Donovan, the outright arrogance of Juninho and Sarvas, the clumsy midfield thuggery of Moffat and Clark—how could you not? And if it gets too painful to watch, you can always have a drink.

 

6 Comments

  1. Never ever will I root for Houston! They’re on the same level as the Red Bulls, with their ugly (yet stunningly effective) brand of soccer.

    (Takes soccer ball and storms off for the weekend)

  2. Like it, Eli! Thanks for putting this together and highlighting how relative cheap players who can make a difference can be found down south! Agree that Houston should be Union’s model but doubt we will ever achieve as much as they did/do.
    /
    Think Houston may nick it this time unless Robbie Keane keeps on scoring. Houston is healthy, Kinnear is a sly fox and the LA supporters are lame. Hope one of these finals will ever be played here in Philly (why is the final being played again in LA?!). Thought the atmosphere during the All-Star game was ace!

  3. Forgive me, but I’ve always had a soft spot for landycakes for all that he has done for the national team, and if this really is his last game, I kind of want him to go out on a high.

  4. They just mentioned Houston is ranked 16th in the salary table (and LA 2nd!). And Houston scored just now just before half-time!!

  5. This is the first time I’ve ever completely disagreed with you, Eli. I’d wear orange for the Netherlands before Houston.

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