The Houston Dynamo were huge underdogs heading into the MLS Cup final last year, and by their own admission, they were outplayed in a 1-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy.
While many might consider the Galaxy favorites to win again on Saturday, the Dynamo will enter the match with renewed confidence that the outcome will be different this year.
The Dynamo players were loose and relaxed on Friday – not a major surprise for a team with four MLS Cup final appearances in seven years.
Many wondered how the Dynamo would adjust this year to the loss of defender Geoff Cameron, who signed with Stoke City in the English Premier League.
“When someone leaves, it gives someone else the opportunity to play,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said on Friday.
Kinnear credited Jermaine Taylor with taking advantage of the opportunity for playing time in defense, while the additions of Ricardo Clark and Boniek García bolstered the midfield. Second-year forward Will Bruin also emerged as a serious goal-scoring threat with 12 goals during the season and four so far in the playoffs.
Kinnear said he was kicking himself last year for not playing Bruin in the final. That’s one mistake he will not make this time. He described Bruin as the best young forward in the league.
In previous years, the Dynamo built their reputation on being tough defensively and great on set pieces. That’s a perception that does not bother Kinnear even as the team’s talents have diversified.
Kinnear said they still score many goals on set pieces thanks to Brad Davis – one of the best free kick specialists in the league. However, the team has added speed and more technical ability.
“I would say we’re getting to be a more technical side,” goalkeeper Tally Hall said. “If we want to have a bruising game, I think we’re pretty good at it. If we want to try to possess, I think we’ve shown we can possess the ball. Just because we’re more technical doesn’t mean we can’t bump shoulder a little bit.”
Forward Brian Ching believes the team’s new-look midfield could be the difference this year.
“I think we were a little inexperienced last year in the final throughout the midfield,” Ching said. “I think that is a big reason why we struggled throughout the game.”
Despite their success in recent years, the Dynamo rarely make the headlines like the Galaxy do. That’s fine with them.
When questioned by a British reporter about how he feels about the perception that MLS is Beckham’s league, Davis it does not bother the Dynamo since they have grown accustomed to being overlooked.
“We go out there and do our business, and that’s a lot of times why we’re seen as underdogs. We don’t talk a big game,” Ching said. “We do what we have to do and have consistently done it.”
All of the attention on Beckham’s leaving MLS and Landon Donovan’s uncertain future will not create a distraction, the Dynamo insist.
“We can’t focus on that. It’s not our business,” Davis said.