Frank Isola: New York and Los Angeles are destined to meet in MLS championship

The two star-studded clubs may not have finished with the best regular-season record in their conferences, but the playoffs are a whole different story.
David Beckham and Thierry Henry are both 90 minutes from an early vacation and perhaps ruining a possible dream date in the MLS Cup.

In another time – perhaps as recently as three years ago -- Major League Soccer would be sick to their collective stomachs over losing two mega stars as well as the league’s two biggest markets on the same night. But the model MLS Commissioner Don Garber created can survive having two global icons eliminated within hours of one another.  

That should tell you something about the state of MLS. Or look at it this way; Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter, Tom Brady and Sidney Crosby don’t reach the promise land every year and still their respective sports remain viable.

Even if the bigwigs at the MLS’ Manhattan offices are bracing for the worst, including a potential nasty storm that is expected to hit New York on Wednesday, they should anticipate the best. Take a deep breath, on Dec. 1, Beckham and Henry will still be alive and kicking.

The New York Red Bulls and Los Angeles Galaxy are destined to meet in the championship game. Why? Well, regardless of where the two clubs finished at the conclusion of the regular season they are the elite teams in MLS. Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Beckham give the Galaxy three world-class players who have big-game experience. As for the Red Bulls, there is not a player in MLS more motivated than Henry to add another trophy to his incredible resume.

New York has the easier road, of course. The Red Bulls and D.C. United drew 1-1 last week in the nation’s capital in a match that was moved from Harrison, N.J. because of Hurricane Sandy. D.C. United president and CEO Kevin Payne demonstrated incredible class by agreeing to swap dates with the Red Bulls after finishing ahead of New York during the regular season.

But New York now has the distinct advantage of playing at home in the second leg. Plus, D.C. United will be without Andy Najar, the 19-year-old Honduran who picked up a red card in the first leg after throw the ball at the referee.

The Red Bulls could be without controversial defender Rafa Marquez, who is nursing a calf injury. However, the strength of the Red Bulls has been their strikers, Henry and Kenny Cooper. The combination has combined for 34 goals.

Henry is an interesting study because he’s achieved success playing for club teams in England and Spain but has yet to lift the MLS Cup. Also, of all the players in the league, Henry is the one capable of dramatically changing the outcome in an instant. His one-goal, two-assist performance six weeks ago against Portland showed why Henry is in a class by himself.

The addition of Australian midfielder Tim Cahill gives New York an aggressive, attack-minded midfielder who will benefit from playing alongside Henry. The Red Bulls may be peaking at precisely the right time.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if the Earthquakes lost their edge last week by doing everything in their power to help Chris Wondolowski win the MLS scoring title and make history. Wondo, as his friends call him, scored 27 goals and probably earned a call-up to the national team. They got out of Los Angeles in the first leg with 1-0 win but looked especially vulnerable along their back line. 

Beckham will have his work cut out for him. The same is true of Henry. The playoffs are in full swing and no superstar wants to be the one who misses.

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