The only travel inconvenience endured by the Galaxy players in the 2009 postseason has been choosing which parking space to take at Home Depot Center, where they will play their third straight game in the Western Conference final on Friday against Houston.
That lack of travel stress, a revamped defense and two of the league's best game-breakers are why the Galaxy has to be considered the favorite to reach, and win, MLS Cup 2009.
First, of course, it must get past battle-tested Houston, which scraped past Seattle, 1-0, on aggregate in the Western Conference semifinals with a Brian Ching overtime goal. Another tough test will come from either Chicago or Real Salt Lake, which face off in the Eastern Conference final Saturday (TV: Fox Soccer Channel, live, 8 pm ET).
Pending changes due to injuries or players struggling to recover from the rigors of a long season, here's a rundown of this year's final four:
1. Los Angeles. Landon Donovan and David Beckham have looked more dangerous in the playoffs than the Dynamo's game-changers, Stuart Holden and Brad Davis.
If Galaxy midfielder Dema Kovalenko can play as poised and polished a game as he did in the semifinal second leg against Chivas USA, LA can control the midfield and with its ability to switch play and stretch defenses on the wide HDC surface, it will present problems for Houston that the Dynamo doesn't face at narrower Robertson Stadium.
No team can threaten from the flanks as can the Galaxy with Beckham, Chris Klein, Eddie Lewis and Todd Dunivant.
2. Chicago. The Fire altered its roster little from last year to this, but changes are afoot, with Chris Rolfe bound for Europe, Cuauhtemoc Blanco's MLS future uncertain, and defender Brandon Prideaux set to retire.
It has stumbled short of MLS Cup consistently the past few years; this time it hosts the penultimate game, and having already shook off a mediocre regular-season record to beat New England, 2-0, in the semifinal second leg, has generated enough momentum to clear the next hurdle.
With Rolfe, Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko and Brian McBride in form it doesn't need heroics from Blanco to get another win. A concern is the back line, where regulars Wilman Conde and Gonzalo Segares have been out with injuries and even if they are fit will lack sharpness in a knockout match.
3. Houston. The Dynamo, though it will be on the road, can certainly upset the Galaxy. It has the guile of Holden, the range of Ricardo Clark, the power of Ching and the pace of Dominic Oduro to exploit a young back line. The Dynamo's defense has gone through significant changes without sacrificing much resilience.
Houston also has numerous veterans of playoff battles, dating back in some cases to the days before the team relocated from San Jose. It won at this stage of the postseason on its way to the title in 2006 and 2007 but in both cases hosted the conference final.
4. Real Salt Lake. Any team that can knock off the defending champ and Supporters' Shield winner on the road has the tools to replicate that victory. The return to form of playmaker Javier Morales gives RSL another weapon in addition to forwards Robbie Findley and Yura Movsisyan, who combined for 20 goals in the regular season, midfielder Andy Williams and attacker Clint Mathis.
Captain Kyle Beckerman gives RSL a tough yet skillful midfielder who can turn the game around with a takeaway or through ball or strike from distance. RSL may be the underdog, but can't be underestimated.