By Cory Ritzau
After seven long months for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Los Angeles Galaxy, both are faced with the prospect that their season could end after 90 minutes Thursday night in the opening game of MLS Cup playoffs.
It’s easy to generalize and draw the David and Goliath comparisons with the defending champions taking on Vancouver in their first MLS playoff encounter. But is much more to this matchup and here are some of the notable items that fans of both sides should be aware of going into Thursday’s encounter.
DP, or not DP?
Martin Rennie selected a lineup Saturday evening in Salt Lake City that was absent each of Vancouver’s notable Designated Players and indicated after the game that it may be something he sticks with in Thursday’s matchup against the Galaxy.
If the goal of Vancouver is to try and grind out another 0-0 draw like they did against Real Salt Lake last weekend then he may opt to continue with the benching of Barry Robson and Kenny Miller, and hoping to the speed of Mattocks and Richards to spring something loose on the counter-attack.
The Galaxy fully expect Vancouver to be willing to sit back and absorb pressure, and choose moments to pounce. “I think they’ve made a real effort to be a collective group when they don’t have the ball,” said Galaxy Assistant coach Dave Sarachan, “So they’re making it difficult for teams to penetrate and find space.”
If that is the case, don’t be surprised to see a more industrious tandem included in the pairing John Thorrington and Matt Watson.
History and Momentum
In Vancouver’s two years in Major League soccer they have yet to beat the Galaxy, with the defending champs having gone 3-0-2 in the five contests. And the three Galaxy victories have all occurred within the confines of Home Depot Center, and to make matters worse the Whitecaps have yet to score in that building.
To continue the trend, Vancouver has only won one of their last ten games, and has only three total wins since July 4th (and all three of those came at home). But all of that means nothing to the favorites.
“The slate is wiped clean for all teams, as far as we’re concerned,” said Assistant Coach Dave Sarachan on Tuesday, “I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. I think if you look at their last game, they felt good about the result in Salt Lake so by no means to we think we have anything over them.”
So by all accounts it appears as though it will be statistical uphill battle as they travel to Los Angeles and hope for a regression to the mean in the biggest game of their first two years in Major League Soccer.
Edson Buddle has seen an improvement in form the last month since his return to action and Sunday that forced Landon Donovan back into the midfield against Seattle after thriving as a strike partner alongside Robbie Keane for much of the summer.If Landon is pushed back into the midfield, that leaves him, Beckham, Juninho, Wilhelmsson, Sarvas and Magee fighting for four spots. I think more likely is that we will see Donovan return to striker with Buddle used as a late game substitute, and Wilhelmsson, Sarvas and Magee fighting out for the two outside midfield spots. Each of those three present a different element that Bruce Arena can tinker with depending on the matchup or situation. Wilhelmsson provides the width, Magee the support in the attack, and Sarvas serving as the ball winner and possession oriented option.
Will speed actually Kill?
With AJ DeLaGarza still sidelined with injuries and Sean Franklin exiting Sunday’s game early with hamstring tightness, the tandem of Mattocks and Richards will be called upon to use their speed in hopes of breaking down the Galaxy defense for the team’s first goal in the Home Depot Center. Tommy Meyer will be called upon to replace DeLaGarza and talked Tuesday about matching up with Mattocks whom he played against in college when the two were at Indiana University and Akron respectively.
“I played against Akron and him in college, so kind of know a little bit about him and he still does some of the same stuff, so obviously film helps out in being able to see what he does now and what maybe he does differently from a year ago,” said Meyer about Mattocks, “Obviously he’s a talented player and his speed is something that you have to be careful about.”
Todd Dunivant is likely to be tasked with handling the speed of Richards, and as a fullback looks to balance the ability to get into the attack with being disciplined in his positioning.
“I played with and against Dane a lot,” said Dunivant about the speed Richards, “He is as fast as they get in this league, and in any league really, and he’s so dangerous. So if you shut off for one play, or take a rest on one play, that’s the play he’ll get in behind you because he’s making that run every single time. So you have to be on your guard every single instant and if you’re not he’ll punish you for it.”
But ultimately Dunivant realizes it may come down more to the cohesion of his midfield and their ability to possess that will allow him to get forward and put Vancouver back on their heels:
“We’ll see how the game goes. Against Seattle I think I was able to get forward quite a bit and make Rosales defend and that was part of the plan. But really, my ability to get forward comes down to our possession. If we have a lot of the ball I can get forward more, but if we don’t I have to stay at home more and play defense first which is my primary goal and job every game.”
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Los Angeles does not come out the victor tomorrow evening. The key for Vancouver may be to applying pressure further up the field and forcing Los Angeles into mistakes that they can capitalize upon. But with the way Robbie Keane and the Galaxy pressure are generating chances at the moment, it may take more than one goal to get the job done.
Los Angeles Galaxy 2 : Vancouver Whitecaps 1