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From Tollcross to Tinseltown

THE east end of Glasgow takes on the east end of London in the shadow of Hollywood.

David Beckham's LA Galaxy face Dominic Kinnear's Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup final
David Beckham's LA Galaxy face Dominic Kinnear's Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup final

David Beckham's LA story could easily by hijacked by the man with no fame. If the boy from Leytonstone thought it would be just a case of walking off with the silverware at tomorrow's MLS Cup final the way the British do at the Oscars, he reckoned without the boy from Tollcross, Dominic Kinnear.

Kinnear's Houston Dynamos are ready to prove that the LA Galaxy's stellar cast, which includes Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Beckham, can be eclipsed by a side who slip under the radar as easily as their unassuming Scottish-born manager. The native Glaswegian won 54 caps for the United States after emigrating with his family when he was three but it is the memory of trying to win a deal with St Johnstone in 1986 which drives Kinnear. His experience was a million miles away from Beckham's.

"I came over to Scotland when I finished high school," says the Houston manager, now 45, who moved to Fremont in California with his Glasgow family. "I was 19 and wanted to try to make it in Britain since there was no professional league in the States. I got a trial with St Johnstone and spent three years with Saints. I stayed at my auntie's in Tollcross because I could not afford dig money and I got lifts to Perth.

"Hardly any young players came to the UK from America in the 1980s. If I had been coming through now in the US at 19, it would be so much easier. I would probably have been picked up by an MLS club, the way Stuart Holden was by Dynamos when his family moved to Texas from Aberdeen when he was 10."

Kinnear left St Johnstone in 1989 without playing for the first team and moved back across the Atlantic, to join the San Francisco Blackhawks. He then spent the next seven years bouncing around San Jose, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale and even Necaxa in Mexico until 1996 when the US finally took the world's favourite game seriously.

The formation of Major League Soccer gave the country a long-awaited professional set-up. Kinnear joined Colorado Rapids and then played for San Jose Clash and Tampa Bay Mutiny until hanging up his boots in 2000 and switching to management with San Jose and then Houston. The Tollcross boy led the Texans to MLS glory in 2006 and 2007 and even got an invitation to join another Texan – then-President George W Bush – at the White House, the annual honour dished out to the winners of the MLS final.

"In 2006, I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing," recalls Kinnear. "But we won the MLS Cup the following year and were back to meet the President again. We spoke to him for about 10 minutes and, being from Texas himself, he was delighted we'd won the trophy.

"The game here changed beyond all measure after David Beckham came to Galaxy from AC Milan in 2006. The fact his last game with LA has become such a global media circus is proof of that.

"We have so many fantastic new stadia. We have one at Houston, a 22,000 all-seater. It cost $200m and it's sold out every week. Sporting Kansas has a great one and Seattle Sounders get 40,000. I would far rather play in front of 20,000 sold-out crowds than 5000 fans rattling around in some NFL stadium the way I did as a player – it was like a graveyard at times.

"With it being Beckham's last game, that has taken the attention away from us. Galaxy have other great players but my guys can use last season's final defeat to LA as motivation."

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