It is just a couple of minutes into our conversation and already Stuart Holden is talking about a party.
Moments earlier, the Houston Dynamo midfielder had described the next eight months as the most important of his career, so it's somewhat surprising to hear him discussing festivities, especially with Major League Soccer's Western Conference final just days away.
Quickly though, it emerges that the "party" he is referring is a metaphorical description of the Los Angeles Galaxy's proposed march to the MLS title, a plan Holden and his Dynamo colleagues aim to destroy on Friday night.
The Galaxy storyline is compelling: how the world's most famous player and the United States' most credentialed star combined to resurrect the fortunes of one of the league's worst teams. But the Dynamo care little for David Beckham and Landon Donovan's fairytale script and have every faith that their corps of established pros can clinch a third championship in four years and spark tears in Tinseltown.
"Every time we have done well in the playoffs everybody has been talking about someone else," Holden said. "We have always seemed to duck under the radar and find our way through without too much attention.
"I actually think that adds something to us. We enjoy ruining someone else's party and showing that the experts were wrong to write us off."
The Galaxy go into Friday's single-elimination clash at the Home Depot Center as the favorites, thanks to their home-field advantage and excellent recent form. The winner will take on either the Chicago Fire or Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup final on Nov. 22 in Seattle.
For Holden, becoming champion is the first step in an ambitious list of plans that also involve a trip to the World Cup and, probably, a move to a European club. The 24-year-old stands a strong chance of figuring in Bob Bradley's USA side in South Africa and will be a target for numerous foreign teams when his contract expires at the end of the MLS campaign.
"The day after the season [ends] I will sit down and evaluate all my options," Holden said. "I would be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it, but I'm determined to stay focused on helping this team win [a title] again.
"There will be enough time to work things out. My priorities will be to give myself the best chance of playing in the World Cup. It is every player's dream, and it has come at a good time in my career.
Holden got to demonstrate his skills for the national team last summer at the Gold Cup. A key cog in an American squad comprising mostly MLS players, he tied for the team lead with two goals, including a long-range, stoppage-time blast that clinched USA's group in a draw with Haiti.
Those performances earned him a roster spot for USA's remaining World Cup qualifying matches.
"I have had some experience in the national team, and I am more comfortable now at international level," said Holden, who also was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad and has racked up 10 international appearances. "I feel the USA has the potential to do very well and I want to be a part of that."
While most of the MLS Cup playoff headlines are fixed on Beckham, Donovan and Chicago's Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Holden's story is one that MLS can be rightfully proud of.
After leaving Clemson in 2004, he joined English side Sunderland, but was then under-prepared for the rigors of the English Premier League and did not make a single first-team appearance. His game ended up being refined in MLS under the guidance of Houston coach Dominic Kinnear – to the point where he now looks to have the physical and tactical capacity to do a solid job in Europe.
For now, though, the Dynamo remain his short-term priority. Eliminating Beckham and the Galaxy is his primary focus.
"The Galaxy had a great season and they deserve a lot of credit," Holden said. "They got some criticism early for drawing a lot of games, but you can't argue with their overall record and they will be tough for us.
"But our players have seen a lot and we are not going to be overawed by any opponent or situation. We were one of the better road teams and we believe we can go into L.A. and get the result."