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The most anticipated Major League Soccer title game in recent memory is being billed as David vs. Goliath – except that David plays for Goliath.
David Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy are the overwhelming favorite in Sunday's MLS Cup final against Real Salt Lake in Seattle, having embarked upon a spectacular surge during the second half of the season.
Here we take a look at the critical factors that will decide whether the Galaxy's remarkable revival can be completed or if RSL can pull off a shock and claim the first title in its history.
Shot heard 'round the world
With viewers from 122 countries tuning in and the Galaxy one game away from erasing the painful memories of the past two pathetic seasons, Beckham could not have picked a worse time to be hindered by a troubling ankle injury.
Missing out on this game is simply not an option for Beckham, so he'll have a cortisone shot to allow him to take the field at Qwest Field. No big deal, huh? Maybe not, but remember, the last time Beckham had such an injection was in his final game for Real Madrid, back in June 2007.
The resulting damage that followed ruined the start of his Galaxy career. It took months for him to fully recover. Even with the cortisone shot, will the 34-year-old be able to get through a full 90 – or even 120 – minutes of frenetic action?
The choice of the Emerald City as the venue for this year's final makes perfect sense in one regard: Seattle has responded well to the MLS during the Sounders' first season in the league. However, the controversial FieldTurf surface is not to the liking of all, and it presents a different challenge for each team.
Galaxy forward Landon Donovan and head coach Bruce Arena have both spoken out against the decision to stage the championship game on artificial turf, while RSL seems unaffected, presumably happy just to be here.
"It makes it different for sure," said Arena. "No one has explained the rationale behind it, but it is what it is."
With chilly temperatures and persistent rain expected, the surface could quickly become slick and treacherous.
Speed is likely to be a factor, particularly when RSL is on the attack. The Galaxy's central defensive pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Gregg Berhalter has been superb this season, with Gonzalez winning the Rookie of the Year award.
Much may depend on how effectively the Galaxy midfield can protect its backline and if the in-form Findley can continue his impressive playoff run.
Big game hunters
Beckham and Donovan make their millions for a reason – and it's not just to sell jerseys and put backsides in seats at the Home Depot Center.
The Galaxy's two big stars have more big-game experience than anyone else on the field, and they'll be called upon to provide the kind of leadership and experience that could make all the difference.
Having played in World Cups, European Championships and the Champions League final, Beckham is not going to be awed by this occasion. Meanwhile, Donovan answered any doubts about his ability to step up during this summer's Confederations Cup.
RSL has proven itself to be as hard as nails and is determined to prove all the critics and doubters wrong, but the Galaxy look to be a team of destiny. The outstanding form of Beckham and Donovan should be enough to bring the trophy to Tinseltown. Look for the Galaxy to strike hard and early and withstand a tenacious late comeback from RSL.
Los Angeles Galaxy 2, Real Salt Lake 1