Major League Soccer tweaked its playoff format before this season, moving its championship game from a neutral site to the home field of the finalist with the best regular-season record. Still, the prospect of the Galaxy getting home field seemed unlikely when it entered the postseason with the eighth-best record among the 10 playoff teams.
But after beating Vancouver in a wild-card game and upsetting top-seeded San Jose and Seattle in the next two rounds, the Galaxy finds itself right back where it ended last season: at the Home Depot Center playing Houston, the Eastern Conference wild-card winner, in the MLS Cup final Saturday.
"We could play this in Anchorage if they asked us to," Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said after training Tuesday. "But playing at home should be an advantage in an MLS Cup. We hope it helps us a little bit, because we're going to need all the help we can get.
"I'd rather be playing in L.A. than Houston."
Here's another similarity to last year: The Galaxy slogged its way to a 1-0 victory on a rain-soaked turf in the 2011 MLS Cup final. The early forecast for Saturday? A slight chance of rain with temperatures in the mid-60s.
Speaking of the weather, the Galaxy and Dynamo met once in the regular season, in Houston, in steamy conditions so oppressive Arena argued the game shouldn't have been played.
It was and the Dynamo won, 2-1, beating a Galaxy team missing four starters.
The Galaxy has lost just four times in 26 matches since then, however, and Houston Coach Dominic Kinnear says there's little resemblance between the team he faced in May and the one he'll meet Saturday.
"There are tendencies in the way they play, in the way they shape up," he said during a conference call Tuesday. "The difference is personnel. The players that were missing make L.A. a better team."
The Galaxy head into the title game healthier than they've been in more than two months. Arena said captain Landon Donovan, who missed the final Western Conference playoff game with a tight right hamstring, will play. Midfielder Juninho, who didn't start in Seattle because of an inflamed Achilles, also will be available.
Even defender A.J. DeLaGarza, who hasn't played since spraining his left knee in September, could suit up and be on the bench. DeLaGarza has been participating in full-squad practices for more than a week and played well in a 60-minute scrimmage this week.
"We're going to let A.J. get through the week of training, see how he holds up," Arena said. "But I'm optimistic that he'll be able to be part of our team on Saturday."