CARSON, Calif. – In a week filled with buzz about David Beckham's final MLS game and Landon Donovan's future, Houston just proceeded with business as usual.
No one has paid much attention to their run of four MLS Cup appearances in seven years in the buildup to this final. Few people have noted that this Dynamo group - albeit with a markedly different composition - won on two of those occasions before succumbing to the Galaxy at The Home Depot Center last year. Only a handful of observers have noticed the savvy decision to fly into southern California after a quiet week of training in Houston to avoid some of the trappings of the final.
This final is all about Beckham and the Galaxy, unless you actually have to prepare for it and devise a way to cope with a Dynamo outfit that possesses all of the necessary tools to sour the anticipated coronation.
"I think everyone in the league is well aware of Houston and greatly respects them," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said on Thursday before he delved into the numerous problems posed by the Dynamo.
Houston cultivated its sterling reputation through hard work and persistent success, not some sexy Hollywood story. This story is all about diligence. Dynamo players adopt a certain ethos cultivated over the past several years, buy into the approach set forth by coach Dominic Kinnear and fulfill their obligations on the field.
The mentality persists even as the characters change. Most of the familiar faces from that first title in 2006 - honest professionals like Wade Barrett, Dwayne De Rosario, Brian Mullan and Eddie Robinson - play elsewhere or perform other duties within the Dynamo organization. Holdovers Brian Ching, Brad Davis and recent returnee Ricardo Clark comprise the primary links from the start of this glorious run. They are now supplemented by a group of players that implement the principles established during that period and maintained ever since with little hesitation.
"Guys pick it up," Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall said after the Dynamo secured a berth in MLS Cup final with a 1-1 draw at D.C. United on Nov. 18. "There's so much [there] with Chingy and Brad. They've been around since day one. They're still the core of this team. You either adapt or you don't really fit in. It is what it is. Everyone does it. You don't want to come into this team and be the odd one out. You get it and it takes a hold of you."
While the Dynamo's collective mentality and rugged approach deserves its due, it should not obscure the talent at Kinnear's disposal.
Davis remains one of the league's top left-sided operators with his clever work on the ball and precise service from crosses and set pieces. Boniek Garcia complements Davis on the right flank with his directness and his pace. Clark pairs with Adam Moffat to comprise an assured midfield pairing. Will Bruin plunders in front of goal and possesses more pace than one might expect for a player of his size. Hall directs a back four that allies pace (fullbacks Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie) and strength (center backs Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor).
Kinnear molds the pieces available to him into an efficient and uncompromising unit. Garcia's arrival means this Dynamo side operates more in possession than it has in the past, but the underlying principles remain fairly similar. This team still operates best with a minimum of fuss through midfield, a plethora of opportunities created from crosses and set pieces and an uncompromising defensive mindset.
Those tenets do not attract headlines, increase ratings or sell tickets to finals. They just pave the way for postseason success. And in the buildup to a match affected by a multitude of external issues, those strengths could prove more than enough cause an upset and turn the conversation in an entirely different direction on Saturday.