Thursday, November 12, 2009

MLS Playoffs: Houston Prepared For Tough Galaxy Test

The Dynamo face Los Angeles in the Western Conference final.Both the Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy claim the same number of historic Major League Soccer titles - two.

However, the Dynamo have won theirs more recently, back-to-back in 2006 and 2007, while the Galaxy have missed the playoffs for the last three years.

Yet the Dynamo aren't taking their opponents lightly.

"LA has gotten the better of us over the course of the season, over our two games," said forward Brian Ching. "We're a little disappointed in that. They've made a tremendous turn-around. Give a lot of credit to Omar Gonzalez and Gregg Berhalter for that change."

Los Angeles won its home game against the Dynamo, then drew the away game. As much respect as Ching gave the Galaxy's improved defense, he also noted one of the club's main offensive weapons.

"Anytime you have Landon Donovan, whatever team he's on, they're going to be dangerous," Ching said.

Rating their rivals didn't mean that Ching lacked belief in his Dynamo comrades.

"We've been playing some our best stuff," Ching explained. "We have a team that is very experienced and has been there before and I think that's what you saw in the first round of the playoffs against Seattle. It's always a good sign when you're playing your best games as the playoffs start."

The Dynamo eliminated the darlings of the 2009 season, the Seattle Sounders, in the first round of the playoffs.

Coach Dom Kinnear was proud of what his team overcame in that encounter, given that they had battled through fixture congeston right to the brink of the playoffs.

"That Thursday game was asking a lot of the players, but that's why our performance there was something to be proud of," said Kinnear of the Dynamo's hard-fought away draw in Seattle. A goal by Ching on the home leg in Texas sent the Dynamo to the Western Conference final.

Though it was while he coached the San Jose Earthquakes, Kinnear does have postseason experience versus the Galaxy. Four years ago, the 'Quakes had the best regular-season record, but were bounced out of the playoffs by the Galaxy in the first round.

"In 2005, we learned a pretty valuable lesson against the Galaxy," Kinnear reflected. "We were chasing the game late and being a little bit naive."

Trying to overcome a goal deficit against Los Angeles, the Quakes went down by another and couldn't make up the difference in the home leg.

The very next season, however, Kinnear won his first title with the Dynamo.

One of the few constants between the confrontation in 2005 and now was Donovan.

"He's always a threat on the field," Kinnear assessed. "I find it funny that he comes under so much criticism when he does pretty much everything correctly on and off the field. He's a great player. "

Yet the Dynamo coach was well aware of how the in some ways, Los Angeles had added more attacking firepower since 2005. Another of the Galaxy's key players was also rated highly by Kinnear.

"For me, the service of Beckham is the best in the world," said Kinnear of the English midfielder.


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