Galaxy, Dallas set for Western finals
The Los Angeles Galaxy clinched their franchise's third Supporters' Shield with a win over FC Dallas at the Home Depot Center three weeks ago.
The teams will be meeting on the same pitch in the Western Conference finals Sunday for much larger stakes.
Los Angeles is looking to advance to its second straight MLS Cup and gained home-field advantage for the playoffs after finishing with the league's best regular-season record, securing the title with a 2-1 victory over Dallas on Oct. 24.
The Galaxy advanced to the conference finals with an 3-1 aggregate goal series victory over Seattle.
"We're finishing how we started -- strong defensively," goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, the league's Goalkeeper of the Year, told the Galaxy's official website. "If you want to win a championship you have to be strong defensively."
It also doesn't hurt having one of the MLS' most dangerous offenses. Edson Buddle, the league's second-leading scorer with 17 goals, had two playoff goals over the series while David Beckham had two assists -- both off set pieces -- in the second contest.
Beckham has played in nine games since returning from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in March while playing on loan with AC Milan. While Beckham said he's not in top shape yet, he also had a goal in the win over Dallas last month.
Los Angeles lost to Real Salt Lake on penalty kicks in last year's MLS Cup.
While the pressure has been on the Galaxy all season, they have yet to falter. Los Angeles will look to improve to 7-0-1 in playoff games at the Home Depot Center on Sunday.
"It's a little bit harder sometimes when you're playing with that sort of expectation," said Landon Donovan, who had seven goals and 16 assists during the regular season but was held off the scoresheet in first round, "but we're a very mature team and we know how to deal with it."
Although Los Angeles was expected to reach the conference finals, FC Dallas continues to surprise. Coach Schellas Hyndman was named Major League Soccer coach of the year this week after leading the team to its first postseason berth since 2007.
Dallas defeated second-seeded Real Salt Lake in the opening round, advancing on a 1-all tie last Saturday after a 2-1 victory in the first game.
While the Galaxy have beaten Dallas in both meetings, including a 1-0 win May 20, it is a much different team than the one that visited Los Angeles three weeks ago. In that game, goalie Kevin Hartman, midfielder and captain Daniel Hernandez and defender Ugo Ihemelu all sat out because of injuries. All three have since returned.
"Everybody is aware they beat us twice this year," Hernandez said. "I don't think as a player it bothers us at all. We've done a good job of concentrating on our opponent each week, whether at home or away. ... We wouldn't feel differently if we beet them twice this year.
Hartman's return has been especially crucial. Before suffering an injured MCL in his right knee in September, Hartman had allowed the fewest goals in the league with 12.
Dallas has never been to the MLS Cup and before this year, hadn't won a postseason series since 1999.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press