[MLS CUP ANALYSIS] A substitution and tactical shift garnered much of the credit for the breakthrough goal scored by Landon Donovan in the 72nd minute by which Los Angeles downed Houston, 1-0, Sunday night in the MLS championship game.
Midfielder Chris Birchall replaced forward Adam Cristman in the 57th minute, with Birchall taking over at right mid for Landon Donovan, who moved up top alongside Robbie Keane. Los Angeles broke open the goalless game when Keane collected a ball from David Beckham and evaded a tackle to slip through a pass Donovan knocked home for his league record 20th playoff goal and fourth in an MLS Cup final.
Yet the vital difference on that play, and for much of the game, stemmed from the simple fact the Galaxy impact players did their job, and seldom did their counterparts on the Dynamo match their performance.
GALAXY OVERCOMES MISSES. Cristman, paired up top with Keane, failed to convert three good chances; he drove two headers wide and wasted another opportunity when he tried to trap an inviting cross instead of hitting it first-time, and slipped trying to shoot. But despite his misses and those of others, the Galaxy dominated play for most of the 90 minutes through the interplay of Keane, Beckham and Donovan, supplemented by heady midfield play from Juninho and very solid defending.
The Dynamo fended off numerous attacks and stayed in the game by some dogged tackling and the Galaxy’s poor finishing. Houston’s attack, missing playmaker Brad Davis, worked the flanks to good effect at times yet seldom set up a clear opportunity that forwards Brian Ching and Calen Carr could direct on goal.
Corey Ashe ranged up the left side from his midfield position and right mid Danny Cruz did the same; Ashe’s crosses were expertly handled by right back Sean Franklin or centerback Omar Gonzalez, and aside from one slashing dribble and shot late in the first half, Cruz wasn’t much of a factor.
DYNAMO NEVER THREATENS. In the postgame comments, Galaxy players credited coach Bruce Arena’s move as the deciding factor. A few minutes before Donovan scored, a very close offside decision nullified a goal by Keane, who had early in the second half fired a shot narrowly wide.
Before and after the switch, the Galaxy controlled most of the play, and though a team as dangerous on set plays as Houston can’t be counted out if the score is close, only one team looked likely to score. Eventually, thanks to its major players, it did.
Nov. 20 in Carson, Calif.
Los Angeles 1 Houston 0. Goal: Donovan (Keane, Beckham) 72.
Los Angeles -- Saunders, Franklin, DelaGarza, Gonzalez, Dunivant, Juninho, Beckham, Donovan, Magee, Keane, Cristman (Birchall, 57).
Houston -- Hall, Hainault, Boswell, Cameron, Taylor, Cruz (Clark, 78), Camargo, Moffat, Ashe (Watson, 84), Ching, Carr (Costly, 65).
Referee: Ricardo Salazar.