Galaxy players practice on Nov. 30. (Victor Decolongon / Getty…)
How they match up
Both teams followed difficult paths to get here. The Galaxy was in last place in the Western Conference in June but lost just four times in its final 21 regular-season games to earn a wild-card berth. Then the team came from behind to beat Vancouver and San Jose in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Houston, meanwhile, earned the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot by losing just once in the last five weeks of the season. The Dynamo then upset Chicago, Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United to reach the title game for the second straight year.
Houston's Tally Hall has been superb the last three months, allowing multiple goals just once in his last 12 games. And his 12 regular-season shutouts were second best in MLS. The Galaxy's Josh Saunders was far more inconsistent, posting a career-best nine shutouts but giving up two or more goals in 11 of his other 18 starts.
The Galaxy's veteran back line features former defender of the year Omar Gonzalez in the middle with Sean Franklin and Todd Dunivant — who have played more than 400 games in MLS — on the wings. If there's a weakness it would be rookie center back Tommy Meyer, but he's been brilliant in the postseason. Houston, meanwhile, will need big efforts from Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor if it hopes to contain a quick and creative Galaxy attack.
This is where the game is likely to be decided. The Galaxy has a huge edge in talent and depth, boasting as many as six worthy first-team midfielders, including David Beckham, who is incomparable on set pieces. But if there's anyone who comes close to Beckham on free kicks it's Houston's Brad Davis, whose 28 assists are most in the league over the last two seasons.
Robbie Keane has taken his game to a new level in the postseason, scoring five of the Galaxy's last seven goals. The question is who does the team start next to him, Landon Donovan or the physical Edson Buddle? The Dynamo's most dangerous striker is Will Bruin, who scored a franchise-record 16 goals, including four in five playoff games.
The Galaxy's Bruce Arena and Houston's Dominic Kinnear have both gone out of their way to compliment each other and with good reason. Arena, a Hall of Famer, with three Cup titles, is the most decorated coach in MLS history. But Kinnear has missed the playoffs just once in the last eight seasons, and with a win Saturday he would match Arena with three championships.
BAXTER'S PICK: Beckham won league titles in his final seasons with both Manchester United and Real Madrid and none of his Galaxy teammates want to see that streak broken. So expect the Galaxy to give Beckham a 2-1 win here as a going-away present.
— Kevin Baxter