Salazar previews Saturday's MLS Cup Final
As the Houston Dynamo prepare for Saturday’s MLS Cup rematch with the Los Angeles Galaxy, one refrain has become particularly popular among Dominic Kinnear’s players.
This is not the same Dynamo team that lost 1-0 to the Galaxy some 53 weeks ago.
The mantra is as much about Houston’s health heading into the final as it is about different personnel. Without Brad Davis’ run-of-play and set-piece delivery, Houston was forced into a mostly conservative approach in 2011. The seal finally broke in the 72nd minute when Landon Donovan beat Tally Hall for the eventual game-winner. With 18 minutes to score a goal and extend their season, Houston couldn’t muster enough in attack.
That won’t be the case this year, as Davis is fit and can create goal-scoring chances from nothing – as he did in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final at RFK Stadium. But Davis’ availability isn’t the change that makes Houston more likely to score this time around in Los Angeles. Instead, it’s the man who finished Davis’ aforementioned assist in Washington – Boniek Garcia.
“Boniek has been one of the best signings in MLS,” said Calen Carr. “He’s a huge part of what we do. He’s a quiet guy but he speaks with this play. He’s a guy who is able to make the difference in a game and can change the game in one play. He always wants the ball especially in big moments in games and that’s the sign of a great player.”
How good – or great – is Garcia?
His four goals and six assists over 17 regular season starts fail to illustrate the impact the 28-year-old has made since joining Houston in June. Kinnear and his players laude the Honduran’s work ethic, noting the difference he’s made in the Dynamo’s defensive effort. Few players can have such a striking influence on both ends of the field, and – for those that do – a rare term can be applied.
“He’s one of the most skillful guys I’ve played with,” Bobby Boswell said. “He’s up there on a real small list of MVP-type players. I’d love to see what he can do in a full year in this league.”
Boswell would know.
Before arriving in Houston, the eight-year MLS vet spent three seasons in Washington, where he played alongside a pair of players who earned Major League Soccer’s most coveted individual prize. Christian Gomez won MVP in 2006 and Luciano Emilio captured the award a year later. Boswell also played with Jaime Moreno, who was a finalist for the award during Boswell’s rookie year.
Just 22 games into Garcia’s MLS career, and he’s already being compared to some of the league’s all-time greats.
“We were a little surprised with how easy it was for him to come from Honduras to here and play well,” Kinnear admitted when asked about Garcia’s transition from the Honduran league to MLS. “He’s a good player but you never know how long it’s going to take for a guy to blend in and [get a] feel for the league and be the player that we think he can be. The only thing that surprised me was it happened so quickly. But he’s the player we thought he was.”
Need further proof of Garcia’s importance to the Dynamo? In Houston’s year-end team awards, it was the Honduran – not MVP Davis, stellar goalkeeper Hall or top scorer Will Bruin – that took home the Players’ Player of the Year honor.