Friday, November 10, 2006

2006 MLS Cup Preview - The showdown in Texas

One last match before the MLS season wraps and it might just be the best match of all. Both teams come into the game healthy and in good form. Houston has proven their ability to flood teams with their offense while the Revolution know how to grind games out with their defense. With the stadium in Frisco, Texas sold out, this has all the ingredients of something real good.

Houston Dynamo vs. New England Revolution
Sunday - 3:30pm ET
Radio: Houston - 850am (Spanish), 101.7fm (Spanish); Boston - 680am

New England must be feeling some déjà vu right around now as they return to the MLS Cup in Frisco for the second straight year as both years saw them win their Conference final 1-0 on a goal in the fourth minute (2005 - Clint Dempsey, 2006 - Taylor Twellman). Also, their Western Conference opponent beat Colorado in their Conference final by two goals (2005 - LA 2-0 Colorado, 2006 - Houston 3-1 Colorado). Now the question is will the final end up the same way.

The Revolution will face a hostile crowd this year as thousands of Houston fans will make the 250-mile drive to Dallas to support their Dynamo, but as New England proved against DC last week, they can survive under pressure. When you look back at their match against United, it is hard to believe that they made it out of RFK with a win as their offense was really just one fantastic shot on goal. DC's keeper Troy Perkins didn't even make a single save. Normally that is a really bad sign for the goalie, but in this case it says a lot more about the Revs lack of force up top then Perkins.

Yet they are now in Dallas thanks to their midfield, backline and the ever dangerous (and I mean that in many ways) Matt Reis in goal. The lesson Houston needs to have learned from United's mistake is not to give up a goal early. I said the same thing about Houston last week before they played the Rapids. Sure enough, they made an early mistake (handball in their box), but because the Rapids are the Rapids, they could not hold on to the lead. The Revolution is not the Rapids. An early mistake will all but kill the Dynamo.

Defender Michael Parkhurst has fantastic control in the middle of New England's backline while Avery John and Jay Heaps will make life hell for Houston's Brian Ching and Paul Dalglish.

The question for the Revolution is can they shut things down in the midfield. Shalrie Joseph and Jeff Larentowicz will need to find a way to do something few have done this season, stop Dwayne De Rosario. They had some good luck, with help from Andy Dorman, of taking DC's Christian Gomez out of the game last week, but if De Rosario is something a little different as he is really good at finding little ways out of traps.

One of his favorite ways out is Brad Davis, who can spread the attack up the left side and has a knack for making good crosses into the box, as is proven by his 11 assists this year. Ching and Dalglish will find their way onto these crosses, forcing Reis to make save after save, and Reis might just be good enough to make all those saves.

But just stopping balls all night is not going to win you the game. At some point the New England offense will need to step up and plant a death kiss on Houston. Twellman has returned to form over the last six weeks, and his play seems more physical then it did last year. He's willing to put his body into things and force openings. Add that to his unbelievable ability to redirect balls in ways unimaginable and you have a wonderful option. However, if you don't have the ball, talent doesn't matter.

The biggest thing holding Twellman back on Sunday might not be the defense around him, but the ones a bit closer to center field as they will shut down the average Revolution midfield. If Adrian Serioux has a big day for Houston, Joe Franchino and Shalrie Joseph will be frustrated and Twellman will not be getting balls.

Yet the Revolution will have a 'surprise' waiting for the Dynamo on their bench as it looks like Clint Dempsey will be healthy enough to suite up. There is no way Steve Nicol will start him, but bringing him in as a sub at the hour mark is a great option to have. He will force Houston to either make big plays or foul him.

So how will all this play out?

New England has the advantage of having been through this all just last year, which should allow them to come out calm, but the Dynamo have the more explosive team in general. As long as Houston makes it through the first 20-minutes okay (no goals conceded, red cards or injuries), they should have enough to pull out a win.

The Revolution have counted on their defense all year in pull out low scoring victories, but this game just doesn't seem like a one goal game to me. Because of that, I predict that Houston will celebrate a championship team.

Me - Houston 2-1 New England
Wife - Houston 2-1 New England

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Blogger The Manly Ferry said...

That's a fine review, Mike. Sadly, you reached the same conclusions I did: I think Houston has the edge.

Fortunately, though, the Revs have a shot as well. And that will make the game worth watching.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Revolution may have the least-scored-on defense in the league, but with Dempsey back and Twellman doing his thing, and Noonan feeding them both, and Shalrie not unfairly suspended... not to mention with Pepe Cancela's skill for the perfect pass and Khano Smith's unbeatable speed... I give the Revs the edge

10:37 PM  

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