MLS Cup 2014: Three reasons the Galaxy will win

By Ridge Mahoney

Though its brazen spending and consistent success cause many otherwise neutral fans to root against the all-powerful Galaxy, the allure of Landon Donovan’s last MLS appearance will sway at least some support to his side. Though it is 4-4 in MLS Cup finals, the Galaxy can win on its home field for the third time in the past four seasons and also down the Revs as it did in 2002 and 2005.

Here are three ways by which the Galaxy can prevail:

1. Home cooking of StubHub Center.

Unlike its bitter Northwest rival, Seattle, the Galaxy is tough at home in the playoffs, and this is a function of more than boisterous fans and stress-free travel.

The playing surface may vary somewhat from its specified dimensions of 120 yards by 75 yards, but it’s still a vast area in which many teams flounder. Spacing is extremely critical and over the years the Galaxy has used myriad methods to open up teams and create chances. The emergence of Gyasi Zardes as a true target striker in just his second pro season is a main reason Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan produced combined totals of 29 goals and 33 assists.

Zardes played much of his rookie season as a wide midfielder and rather than stay central all of the time and wait for service, he will drift out toward the sideline on occasion and cause opponents all sorts of problems. Rather than funnel everything towards Zardes, Donovan and Keane exploit their cleverness and mobility to attack at various angles and combinations.

If the defense stays too compact, right midfielder Stefan Ishizaki will use the space to attack down that side and drive balls into the goalmouth. A back line stretched too far can be burned by central mids Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho pushing forward, or the outside backs A.J. DeLaGarza or Dan Gargan on the right and Robbie Rogers on the left tucking inside instead of going wide.

The Galaxy was a league-best 12-1-4 at home in the regular season and has lost only once -- to FC Dallas in 2010 -- in one-off postseason games in its own building.

MLS Cup 2014: Three reasons the Revs will win

2. Experience in MLS Cup and internationally.

The Revs are tougher mentally than the 2013 team that faltered in the playoffs against eventual champion Sporting Kansas City, but the Galaxy locker room is full of players who have worn medals around their necks.

Donovan can surpass former San Jose and USA teammate Jeff Agoos and Brian Mullan by winning a sixth MLS Cup title, and he’s won with many of the same men he’ll play alongside on Sunday: Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza go back to a penalty-kick loss to RSL in the 2009 final, Juninho and Keane have been on the podium twice.

Keane has played in World Cups and European Championships, so even though he seemed fatigued or nursing a minor injury in the conference finals against Seattle, he’s responded to big occasions dozens of times. Keeper Jaime Penedo has backstopped Panama in World Cup qualifiers and Gold Cup matches.

Experienced players are less prone to commit the decisive error or egregious mistake by which major matches are often decided. They also respond better to the inevitable ebbs and flows of a tightly contested final and as the home team, the Galaxy’s background of big games is an important advantage.

3. Storybook finish to Donovan saga.

Since the day he announced his retirement in early August, the possibility Donovan could add a sixth title in his final game increased with each passing week. He broke the league's all-time assist record held by Steve Ralston and wound up atop the league with a career-high 19 assists.

Failure to beat Seattle in either of the final two regular-season matches gave home-field advantage to the Sounders, whose fans took the Supporters’ Shield as an omen that 2014 was destined to be their year. But after the Galaxy crushed Real Salt Lake, 5-0, at home in the second leg of the conference semifinals, a narrow 1-0 home victory over Seattle and 2-1 loss at CenturyLink Field extended Donovan’s career thanks to the away-goals rule, which the league had adopted for the 2014 season. Destiny, right?

After he nailed a hat trick -- just the third in MLS playoff history -- as the Galaxy routed RSL, Donovan’s influence regressed in two matches against the Sounders. The odds would suggest he’ll bounce back strongly on Sunday with a small army of family members, friends and former teammates in the house.

Still, Donovan is such an emotional player, the pressure could be excruciating. He’s the league’s all-time playoff leader in goals (25) and assists (15) but even this unique occasion might jangle his nerves. (He blasted his penalty kick over the bar in the 2009 shootout, remember.)

An over-amped Donovan could be a detriment but the energy and passion in StubHub Center should be overpoweringly positive. Everybody connected to the Galaxy will be willing this to be a grand occasion and for observers everywhere -- except in Boston and assorted pockets of anti-Landycakes sentiment -- only one ending can be a happy one.

1 comment about "MLS Cup 2014: Three reasons the Galaxy will win".
  1. beautiful game, December 5, 2014 at 11:40 a.m.

    Coach Arena has this team running on all cylinders. Off the ball movement and team shape is mostly consistent. It's their game to lose.

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