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Keane's return, Davis' absence mark Cup countdown
by Ridge Mahoney, November 17th, 2011 1:32AM

TAGS:  houston dynamo, los angeles galaxy, mls


[MLS CUP 2011] Houston and the Los Angeles are in the final stages of preparation for the league championship game Sunday that will feature Irish international Robbie Keane but not MLS assist leader Brad Davis.

With an important training session followed by a press conference scheduled for Thursday, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena gave his players Wednesday off.

The only notable event scheduled for Wednesday was striker Keane’s return from Ireland after playing in both legs of his country’s 5-1 aggregate triumph over Estonia. He scored twice as Ireland romped, 4-0, in the first game, which all but clinched Ireland a spot in the 2012 European Championship.

Keane came back from Euro qualifiers last month with an adductor injury, yet he recovered in time to play in all three playoff victories. Arena will assess his condition at training on Thursday and will bank on having Keane, who has scored once in the playoffs after netting twice in four regular-season games, ready to start.

“He’s going to get the rest he needs,” said Arena on a conference call with reporters Monday. “Robbie’s the kind of guy who could probably get off the plane and play. That’s the way he is. We’re going certainly to give him a couple of easy days and have him ready for Sunday.”

Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear and his players are counting on their own star forward, Brian Ching, who missed much of the season with a succession of injuries: a torn tendon in his thumb, a strained hamstring, a separated rib, and a battle with plantar fasciitis. He managed only 15 starts in his 20 regular-season games and scored five goals, yet has a goal and an assist in the playoffs.

This was yet another injury-marred season for Ching, who has suffered fearsome injuries such as multiple facial fractures in past years but keeps coming back and getting the job done.

"He’s a big guy and he likes to get in there and bang it out with the other defenders,” says teammate Bobby Boswell, who regularly tangles with Ching in practice.
“He knows he’s going to get injured from time to time, but he’s pretty professional in how he deals with it, and I think that’s why he’s always rebounding and coming back and doing well.”

Houston will train at home Thursday and travel to Los Angeles that afternoon. Kinnear hasn’t revealed how he will revamp the lineup to replace Davis, the midfield playmaker and MVP candidate hobbled by a torn quadriceps suffered during Houston’s 2-0 defeat of Kansas City in the Eastern Conference final.

The Galaxy’s unbeaten record at home in 2011, its superior record in the regular season, and the injury to Davis has laid heavy favoritism on the home team. Arena doesn’t believe Houston will suffer mightily without Davis, who edged out David Beckham as the league’s assist leader, 16 to 15. Houston scored both of its goals against Kansas City after Davis departed in the first half.

“I don’t think it’ll be a huge difference,” said Arena. “Obviously, Brad’s an excellent player and up for the league MVP and has had a terrific season, but I watched the last 65 minutes of the Kansas City game when Brad wasn’t playing and Houston just dominated Kansas City.

“We would all be mistaken if we felt that Houston’s going to be a very much different team and a handicapped team without Brad. They’re still a very good team, they have an identity and an understanding of how to play, and it’s going to be very good.”

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