The blinding spotlight of the 2014 FIFA World Cup flickered off just three days before the Los Angeles Galaxy hammered the New England Revolution on July 16.
New England was in the midst of its worst run since 2001, and the 5-1 loss to the Galaxy was its sixth-straight setback. The Revolution would lose their next two games before mounting the most dramatic of turnarounds, which has taken them from the depths of the abyss all the way to the 2014 MLS Cup Final.
The Revolution return to the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., on Sunday where they will face the Galaxy for the first time since that fateful day in July. While payback might be on the minds of the Revolution players, there’s no question that they’re dreaming of glory.
Class vs. Form
The Galaxy have been one of America’s top teams for a generation, and they are competing in their fourth MLS Cup Final in the last six years. This current Galaxy team has a star-studded lineup, undoubted quality — which they demonstrated from the start of the season — and home-field advantage in the biggest game of the season. Retiring star Landon Donovan is trying to win his sixth MLS Cup in his final game, and his Galaxy teammates will try their best to give his career a Hollywood ending.
But the Revolution are the hottest team in the league, having gone 11-1-2 in their last 14 games, including playoffs. The Revolution remained unified during their losing streak and emerged as a more confident, focused and dangerous unit than they were at the start of the season. The Revolution then signed Jermaine Jones in mid-August, and the veteran midfielder helped catapult them from playoff hopeful to title contender. New England now hopes to spoil Donovan’s farewell by completing their own fairy-tale.
Robbie Keane, Lee Nguyen and Supporting Casts
Sunday’s game will feature two of MLS’ top goal scorers and most fearsome attacks. Keane led the Galaxy with 19 goals and 14 assists during the regular season, while Nguyen scored 18 goals and set up five more for the Revolution. Keane won the MVP Award on Wednesday. Nguyen finished third in the voting. One will claim the bigger prize Sunday, but they’ll need help in order to do so.
The teams’ efforts to contain Keane and Nguyen will open space for other attacking players to exploit. Donovan has scored and created goals in big games for almost 15 years. Revolution forward Teal Bunbury showed that he too makes art in high-pressure situations. Revolution striker Charlie Davies and Galaxy striker Gyasi Zardes will have their chances to score.
The result will hinge not only on how clinical each team is in front of the opponents’ goal but also how well it defends. The Galaxy had the best goal-scoring and defensive records in the 19-team league during the regular season. The Revolution were ninth in goals scored and eighth in goals conceded, but they improved in both areas in the regular season’s final months and in the playoffs.
MLS Cup is a one-game affair. Anything can happen.
“Here We Go Again”
The Revolution and the Galaxy have been here before. They met in MLS Cup Finals in 2002 and 2005, and the Galaxy won both games in extra time by a score of 1-0. New England head coach Jay Heaps played for the Revs in both games, as well as their two other MLS Cup losses in 2006 and 2007 against the Houston Dynamo.
The number five looms large in Sunday’s game. The Galaxy are going for their record fifth MLS Cup. They also have lost four MLS Cup finals. The Revolution are trying not to lose in an MLS Cup Final for the fifth time.