MLS Cup Final: A HandbookBy: Juan Mesa
The MLS 2014 season comes to an end on Sunday with the clash between the LA Galaxy and the New England Revolution, who face each other for the title for the third time (the Californians won the previous two matches, in 2001 and 2006). The game will be played at the Galaxy’s StubHub Center, a privilege given to the finalist with the best record in the regular season.
But who has the stronger hand, the four-time champion LA team or the four-time runner-up Revolution? And what defines each team? Let’s revert to our World Cup format (we’re trying not to get too nostalgic about that perfect summer month of endless soccer here) and see.
HOW DID THEY GET HERE?
The Galaxy finished the regular season with the second-best record in the MLS and 61 points. In the playoffs, they destroyed Real Salt Lake with an aggregate of 5-0 and then upset favorites Seattle Sounders thanks to the away goal tiebreaker after a 2-2 in the aggregate.
The Revolution, in turn, had an amazing second half of the season, which made them finish second in the Eastern Conference (they amassed nine victories in 13 games between August and October), while in the playoffs, they eliminated the Columbus Crew and New York Red Bulls without losing any games.
With speed, skills and finishing power, LA’s Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes and Landon Donovan are the most lethal trio of attackers in the MLS, leading the scoring stats with 69 goals. But there’s more to the Galaxy: behind them are Brazilians Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho, and Swede Stefan Ishizaki, a trio who does the good and the ugly but never the bad in the midfield.
The Revs became a perfect counterattack team after signing Jermaine Jones in August. His presence sped up their transition from defense to attack—something they can do in just three touches. Charlie Davies and Lee Nguyen are lethal in front of the goal: they will score two goals if they are given three chances.
The Galaxy’s defense is one of the best in the MLS, but somehow they spaced out in certain moments of the game, especially during the second leg of the Western Conference final, letting Seattle score two goals in the first 30 minutes.
The Revs allowed six goals from the Crew and the Red Bulls during the playoff series. This means the defense is not as strong as their attack. They struggle when rivals play through balls or cross pass from sides of the field. And goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth had plenty of saves against New York, but still lacks experience in these stages. In sum, they need a lot of concentration in order to defeat the Galaxy.
THE BOTTOM LINE: WHO WILL WIN?
Everything is set for a fifth Galaxy title. They are at home, they know what it is to be a champion and have a better roster than New England. Still, New England is an unpredictable team with a performance on the rise, so even if their chances of winning are lower (say, 40%), it would be absurd to rule them out.
IF THEY WERE A SONG, THEY WOULD BE...
LA Galaxy: “The Distance” by Cake
New England Revolution: “Horses” by Patti Smith
LOGISTICS: MLS Cup Final, Sunday, December 7, 3pm ET, broadcast on ESPN, UniMás and Univisión Deportes