The playoffs are a different animal. The mentality an individual player or the collective team carries into the big game play a large role. Often times a team’s chemistry is the deciding factor in the big game between two elite sides. On Sunday night at the Home Depot Center both FC Dallas and LA will show similar commitment and mettle, but what are the other intangibles that will pile up to make the difference at the end of the game? These are my key matchups to look for that will decide the outcome of the Western Conference Final on Sunday night in Carson, California.
Kevin Hartman vs Donovan Ricketts:
The FC Dallas goalkeeper has set nearly every MLS goalkeeping record. Now in his 14th MLS season he has never looked better. Hartman was well on his way to another Goalkeeper of the Year Award had it not been for Thierry Henry. Do you think this guy is motivated? Yes he is, probably more than ever knowing that he was not only let go by Kansas City, but surely took a pay cut to move to Big D. Chip on the shoulder- check. The guy opposite him on Sunday was the netminder that claimed the 2010 award. Also, keep in mind that the Galaxy have been to six MLS Cup Finals, claiming two. The man in goal on both occasions- none other than Kevin Hartman. His return in goal for the series with RSL provided an organizer and leader behind the reforming backline. His performance in the second half at Rio Tinto was the difference for FCD. Can he do it again on Sunday?
Donovan Ricketts started the season allowing only two goals through the first ten games. He challenged club marks for goalkeeping that were set by the man opposite him. At 6’5” the Jamaican international has a strong presence on service into the area. His shot-stopping ability at times is the best in the league, but he also conceded a soft one in the game against Seattle at the Home Depot Center. Fortunately for LA the game was already over by halftime. He has an intangible element that goalkeepers are not usually known for- his kicking. Ricketts on both goal kicks and punts can easily clear into the opponents defensive third. Who is his target most of the time? Edson Buddle. The Galaxy live off long services forward, and knockdowns collected by midfield runners.
These two will decide the series if it goes to penalties.
Schellas Hyndman vs Bruce Arena:
Winning the 2010 MLS Coach of the Year is an honor for Hyndman and his team. This has been a record setting year in which FCD showed their resiliency on many occasions by breaking two records. One, a 19 game unbeaten streak now an MLS single season record. Two, a 12 game road unbeaten streak. This team has the ability to win any game they play in and are unwavering in their belief in team structure. Hyndman has blended age and experience, and now a culture of winning. The team has taken on his image.
Bruce Arena was the 2009 MLS Coach of the Year. Falling in penalties has certainly motivated him to push his team further than they have been before. This year they did that in claiming the Supporter’s Shield while leading the league wire to wire. Their 12 game unbeaten streak made it challenging during the dog days of summer as they built such a comfortable lead, but they seemed to have found the form they began 2010 with.
The tactics applied in this game could be the difference.
Certainly at home the Galaxy should be the team looking to create the game, but I am curious what a one off Western Conference Final may do to their game plan. For FCD- to press or not to press is the question. It’s true the Galaxy have more experience on their bench than FCD, but does that really matter for a player looking to create and take chances. Let’s see who makes the first change of the game, and we’ll know the tactic immediately. An early LA goal seems to play into the hands of the home side, but if FCD strikes first this could be a wide open game for the ages. Let’s hope we get the latter.