Major League Soccer, and indeed most American sports, do not do the David and Goliath thing very often.
Single entity leagues and enforced parity means underdogs are somewhat of a rarity in US sports.
Of course, cup competitions on the rest of the planet have no such restrictions, although the overload of group stages and second chances for the wealthier sides in the renovated UEFA Champions League has drastically reduced the chances of the little guy making it through to the final.
Perhaps more than on any other occasion in MLS history though, the 2011 final has a strong favourite, the Los Angeles Galaxy, and a clear outsider, the Houston Dynamo.
LA have home advantage. To explain to outsiders, that the final would be played at their Home Dept Center was decided long before the identity of the finalists were known. In the US Open Cup Final, the two competing sides bid for home advantage and the wealthier team bags the rights.
In MLS, the location rotates.
Nor do Los Angeles Galaxy have home advantage because they won the regular season league, although that seems to be an idea gaining traction in the corridors of power.
It does explain though why they are strong favourites. They finished 18 points ahead of Houston in the table. Houston Dynamo had an appalling away record. In fact they didn’t win an away game until October 14th after 15 unsuccessful attempts. La had won eleven home matches by that point.
To make the Dynamo’s struggle just that little more uphill, (Houston readers will need to google the concept of a hill,) the side will be without their most dangerous asset, set piece taker extraordinaire Brad Davis, whose 16 assists top the charts, one ahead of David Beckham. To give you some idea of their reliance on Davis, the rest of the side have just 25 assists between them.
Add in his four goals and he has been part of 20 of Houston’s 45 goals.
Dynamo will have to compensate for that alongside everything else.
Should they pull off the surprise, they will not be alone however.
Over the next few days, we will bring you a completely subjective list of the five greatest cup final upsets. We will miss games some readers should feel included. Feel free to add your own.
The series will start off with the 1988 English FA Cup Final, where mighty Liverpool FC who had just been crowned Champions of England and had dominated European football, came up against plucky Wimbledon who had spent most of the 20th century not even in the English league, and played to crowds of about 6,000.
Part 1: David beats Goliath: Wombles stun Liverpool in 1988 FA Cup
Wimbledon FC and Liverpool were both in England’s top division when they reached the FA Cup Final of 1988. That was just about the only thing the two clubs had in common.
Liverpool were the most decorated club in English football and had spent most of the last decade winning both the English title and the European Champions League. Their side was packed with top international players including ex New England coach Steve Nicol, England internationals John Barnes and Peter Beardsley, and Denmark’s Jan Molby.
Wimbledon’s side was a collection of journeymen, misfits and good players in the declining years of their careers. Vinnie Jones did go on to become a film star and Lawrie Sanchez to manage Northern Ireland. Dennis Wise’s career progressed to an England cap.
At the time, their more light hearted approach to training and their ability not to take themselves too seriously, earned them the nickname “the Crazy Gang”.
Their other nickname, “the Wombles” came from a BBC puppet show in which the Wombles roam around Wimbledon Common picking up litter and making it into something new and occasionally useful.
It was in many ways, a perfect analogy for Bobby Gould’s South Londoners.
With the exception of Lawrie Cunningham. none of the Wimbledon players had ever won a major honour and one of them, Alan Cork, had been with the club since its non league days in the equivalent of England’s fifth division.
Making good use of the things that we find. Things that the everyday folk leave behind.
On the day, everything that could have run Liverpool’s way didn’t.
They were awarded a penalty after Clive Goodyear fouled John Aldridge and became the first side ever in a FA Cup Final to miss one when Wimbledon captain Dave Beasant saved Aldridge’s effort.
The Republic of Ireland striker had successfully converted his last eleven penalties and was so stunned that Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish had to substitute him shortly afterwards.
Peter Beardsley even had the ball in the net but referee Brian Hill had already stopped play to award them a free kick against journeyman defender Andy Thorn. Had he played the advantage, the goal would have stood.
It was a Wimbledon free kick that settled the matter in the 37th minute. Dennis Wise’s set piece found Sanchez’s head.
His looping header fooled Bruce Grobelaar in the Liverpool goal and into the net to the joy of a minority of the 98,000 crowd and the astonishment of 250 million worldwide viewers.
Wimbledon FC don’t exist anymore.
In 1991, they were forced to leave their dilapidated Plough Lane ground, which was unsuited to top flight football, and they shared with Crystal Palace until, in 2002, the league allowed the owners to take the club out of London to Milton Keynes, in 2003. The new club Milton Keynes Dons took Wimbledon’s league place.
Some unhappy Wimbledon fans formed a new club called AFC Wimbledon and that now seen their side progress to the second division, the fourth tier of English football. Ironically, they are now only one division below Milton Keynes.
The two nearly drew each other in last year’s FA Cup in what would have been the ultimate grudge match but both lost in replays the round before.
(See more of Wimbledon’s history here: Wimbledon May Face Club that was Stolen from them)
Wimbledon: Beasant, Goodyear, Phelen, Jones, Young, Thorn, Gibson (Scales), Cork (Cunningham), Fashanu, Sanchez, Wise
Goals: Sanchez 37
Liverpool: Grobbelaar, Gillespie, Ablett, Nicol, Spackman (Molby), Hansen, Beardsley, Aldridge (Johnston), Houghton, Barnes, McMahon