LA Galaxy vs. New England Revolution, MLS Cup final preview: Who will be crowned champion?
The Galaxy and Revolution are 90 minutes away from MLS’s ultimate prize. Will it go to the team chasing history, or the one trying to exorcise their demons?
By Sunday afternoon, the Galaxy could be the undisputed greatest dynasty in MLS history. They have won the Supporters’ Shield twice since 2010, and are now looking to add their third MLS Cup in that timespan too. It will be an unmatched level of dominance, but it won’t be easy.
Standing opposite them will be the New England Revolution, who just so happen to be 11-1-2 since signing Jermaine Jones on August 30. They have been a machine and MLS’s hottest team, riding an incredible midfield to the top of the Eastern Conference.
It’s not as if the Galaxy have been in poor form. They were the league’s best team from May on and put together a historically good goal difference of +34 in the regular season. If LA and New England weren’t MLS’s two best sides down the stretch, they were certainly in the best form.
Both teams are similarly built. They have stars — the Galaxy boast Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, while the Revs are led by Jones and Lee Nguyen — but they’re much more than that. They are anchored by former MLS Defenders of the Year in Omar Gonzalez and Jose Goncalves, lean on young homegrown players like Gyasi Zardes and Steven Caldwell, and are flying because of their ability to get excellent play from unremarkable players. Nobody would call A.J. DeLaGarza, Robbie Rogers, Juninho, A.J. Soares, Chris Tierney or Teal Bunbury exceptional, but they are dependable and excellent when need be.
These two teams also have a past. They met at the 2005 MLS Cup, which the Galaxy won in extra time. They also clashed in the 2002 final, where the Galaxy also came out on top despite playing in front of a packed house in New England.
For the Galaxy, Sunday is about history. They can be crowned the ultimate dynasty, become the first club to win MLS Cup five times and send the league’s greatest player, Donovan, into retirement on top with a record sixth Cup.
The Revolution have a history of their own, but it’s not as pretty. It’s filled with “almost,” as in almost winning MLS Cup four times only to lose in the final. They can change that on Sunday with their first title, and they would love to do in front of the LA crowd, just like the Galaxy claimed their first championship 12 years ago at the Revs’ home.
The only injury concern for either team is on LA’s end, and it’s a pretty big one. A.J. DeLaGarza had to leave the first leg of the Western Conference final with a hamstring injury and did not play in the second leg. The defender has said that he will play on Sunday, but he also hinted that he would play in the second leg of the previous round.
Both teams have lineup decisions to make, though. For LA, it’s where to play DeLaGarza, assuming plays. He could play centrally, with Dan Gargan out wide, or he could play at right back, which would force Leonardo into action. But Leonardo struggled against the Sounders so that is less appealing, although the Galaxy could also tap Tommy Meyer who started the first leg against Seattle and has been steadier. The Revs have to decide whether to play Chris Tierney at left back or push him into the midfield in place of the struggling Kelyn Rowe, which would bring Kevin Alston into the team in defense.
1. How will LA handle New England’s athleticism? If the Galaxy have a weakness, it is that they are not the most athletic team, especially in the midfield. While they have been superb this season, the few times they looked overwhelmed came when teams could out-run them and out-muscle them in the middle. The Revolution just so happen to have one of the most athletic midfields in MLS, led by the strong and rangy Jermaine Jones, who also happens to be immune to fatigue. Whether the Galaxy have the horses in the center of the pitch will go a long ways to determining the winner.
2. Does the Revs’ defense have a chance against the Galaxy attack? New England boasts MLS’s best midfield, so good that it hides what can be a pretty shaky defense. It’s unlikely to be hidden against LA, though. The Galaxy have the league’s top attack, led by MVP Robbie Keane. He’s joined by MLS assist leader Landon Donovan and 16-goal scorer Gyasi Zardes. As good as the Revs’ midfield is, they won’t be able to cover for the back line against LA. The New England defense will have to shine on its own, and against the league’s most potent attack.
3. Which star will shine brightest? The Galaxy have the MLS MVP in Robbie Keane, but the Revolution have a finalist for the award in Lee Nguyen. The Galaxy have Landon Donovan, who finished the season red hot, but the Revolution have Jermaine Jones, who made the biggest impact of any player in the league down the stretch. With two really good teams, both of whom are in good form, one play could easily determine the winner. One player could easily dictate the match. And if that happens, it will likely be one of the stars.
The Galaxy were the league’s best team from May on. The Revolution were the league’s best team from September on. So how do you pick between the two? There is so little to separate them, but the Galaxy have the edge in experience, as well as home-field. That should be enough to deliver LA a 2-1 win and their fifth MLS Cup.