By Dave Johnson
The stars have aligned for the L.A. Galaxy. The David Beckham experiment, which by all measures has been a five-year success story, has a chance at a championship conclusion. The Hollywood ending in Carson, California is set, but the Houston Dynamo are capable of changing the script.
Time has breezed by since it was announced at the 2007 SuperDraft that Beckham was leaving Real Madrid for MLS and the L.A. Galaxy. By July of that year he was taking the field for his new team and came on as a substitute in a friendly against Chelsea before a sold out Home depot Center.
On that July afternoon MLS suddenly an NBA-like buzz with a crowd featuring A-listers like Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Eva Longoria, California governor Arnold and future MLS team owner Drew Carey. It was a turning point for a league that had been fighting to stay alive at the start of the decade.
Beckhams ride through MLS has not been a smooth one. He started his MLS career still fighting injuries left over from his time in Spain. Beckhams commitment to MLS was questioned with a loan deal to A.C. Milan that cost him half of the 2009 season with the Galaxy.
Always the professional Beckham was able to smooth things over and repaired a relationship with Landon Donovan that appeared to be strained in 2009. That season ended with a loss to Real Salt Lake in MLS Cup. Last year the Galaxy stumbled in the Western Conference final, but on Sunday it was a convincing 3-1 win over real Salt Lake.
Irish international Robbie Keane, like Beckham did, started his Galaxy career slowed by injury. Now Keane is healthy and the signing from Tottenham Hotspur looking more a like the final piece that will allow the Galaxy to add silverware to match the teams pedigree.
It is important for big market teams to have a star power. The Galaxy can match the NBAs Los Angeles Lakers for star wattage. In some ways Bruce Arena is the Galaxys version of Lakers coach Phil Jackson. Its not that Arena is a zen master like Jackson, but he is still the best manager this country has produced and has displayed a remarkable ability to adapt and always succeed.
Before the Galaxy make room in its trophy case for the 2011 title, Arena and the rest of the team know they have every reason to be concerned about the Houston Dynamo. The team in orange has been arguably the best in MLS over the past decade when its time as the San Jose Earthquakes is taken into account.
Before moving to Houston in 2006, the team won titles as the Earthquakes in 2001 and 2003. The Dynamo lived up to its moniker by immediately winning MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007. Despite playing in aging college football stadium, fans made a connection with the Dynamo and next year the team will open a new stadium in downtown Houston.
Like the Galaxy has with Arena, the Dynamo has a first rate head coach in Dominic Kinnear. Essentially in Houston Kinnear has a program going where the players can change, but the success doesnt. A premium is placed on player development and Kinnears current squad does not revolve around a central player.
In the Eastern Conference final the Dynamo lost MVP candidate Bard Davis to injury, but then his replacement Jermaine Taylor was involved in the first goal scored by defender Adrian Hainault that put the Dynamo on its way to a 2-0 win over Sporting K.C. In true Kinnear fashion, a Dynamo team that struggled to win one the road all season finds a way to its biggest road victory without Davis.
To be sure the Dynamo has strengthened the plot of MLS Cup 2011 on November 20 at Home Depot Center. The game has the making of the ultimate vindication of Beckhams time here in the United States, but the Dynamo is more than capable of spoiling the part.