Winning championships never gets old. Just ask Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Bruce Arena. Or Brian Ching, Brad Davis, Eddie Robinson and Dominic Kinnear.
All seven men have overcrowded trophy cases, yet all seven will be burning to add to them this Sunday when their respective teams square off in MLS Cup 2011 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN, Galavision, TSN2). Well-versed as they are at this sort of thing, motivation will not be a problem.
US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann can vouch for this. Donovan withdrew from Klinsmann’s roster for this past Friday’s international friendly against France at the Stade de France to stay focused and healthy for Sunday’s match.
As MLS emerges from a weekend off and gears up for its 16th championship game, let’s take a look at that friendly in Paris, along with the year-end awards, some MLS Cup history and, of course, the big match looming on Sunday at the Home Depot Center.
Scoreless In Paris
Klinsmann is six games into his career as coach of the US and has said from the start that results don’t matter at this stage. Judge his team, he told ESPN, by how it “develops and improves step by step” en route to the ultimate goal of a good performance at Brazil 2014.
Fair enough—we’re still in the earliest stages of that long-term plan. But after Friday’s 1-0 defeat in Paris, it’s safe to say Sam’s Army is getting antsy.
Entering the game, the US had scored just twice in five games under Klinsmann. But they were creating chances, the new coach insisted, pointing to multiple opportunities in last month’s exhibition against Ecuador.
By that measure, then, the France match was hardly a step forward. Sure, the opponent was tougher, and they were on the road, but the US spent the bulk of the match defending, managing only two shots on goal in the 90 minutes.
Two MLSers started in midfield, as Kyle Beckerman played in front of the back four and Brek Shea manned the left wing. (There were also eight MLS alums who saw time in the match.)
The Yanks play again Tuesday against Slovenia (noon ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, Galavision) in Ljubljana, where they’ll look to improve their 1-4-1 record under Klinsmann.
With only the championship game remaining in the 2011 season, MLS started handing out year-end awards this past week.
The first two were possibly the least controversial choices in the history of the awards: LA centerback Omar Gonzalez, who anchored the league’s stingiest defense, took home the Defender of the Year trophy, and Kansas City striker C.J. Sapong, who led all rookies in points (five goals, five assists) was named Rookie of the Year. It was hard to argue with either choice.
Controversy awaits, though, as the Coach of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year awards will be announced today, and the top Newcomer and Goalkeeper of the Year awards go out Tuesday.
The 2011 MLS MVP will be unveiled on Friday.
Beckham’s Last Stand?
His Western Conference-leading 15 assists may not have been enough to get him on the MVP ballot, but David Beckham enjoyed an excellent season nevertheless. In Sunday’s game, he has a chance to put an indelible stamp of success on his five years in MLS.
If he helps the Galaxy to a championship in the last year of his contract, the biggest signing in league history can put the rockier, injury-marred, earlier chapters of his MLS career in the shadows.
He’ll also maintain his record of winning championships for every full-time employer in his career, from Manchester United to Real Madrid to LA.
Brad and Chad
The Galaxy are certainly the favorites in the match, and Houston’s underdog status will be enhanced by the absence of winger Brad Davis, the league-leader in assists (16). Davis tore a quadriceps muscle in the Eastern Conference Championship against Kansas City and pronounced himself “done” for the year.
He hasn’t been ruled out officially—and LA’s Gregg Berhalter says the Galaxy are expecting Davis to play—but considering his condition after the SKC game, it would be surprising to see Davis in Sunday’s match.
The Galaxy, on the other hand, are dealing with an injury blow of their own; striker Chad Barrett, who produced seven goals and five assists this season, suffered a dislocated ankle in training this past Thursday.
He has been officially ruled out for Sunday and could be replaced by Adam Cristman, Paolo Cardozo or, with some midfield shuffling, Mike Magee or Donovan.