by Steve Pandher
Almost eight months ago when their second season in MLS started, the Vancouver Whitecaps set a goal of going from the worst team in the league to the playoffs in the next year. While they may have backed into the post season, they accomplished their goal as they set to face the defending champion LA Galaxy in a one game showdown in the Home Depot Center.
The lineup may be similar to the one that was fielded against RSL in the regular season finale with Brad Knighton keeping his spot between the posts. In front of him will be a backline that consists of Andy O’Brien partnering with Jay DeMerit in the central defense while this year’s MVP Lee Young-Pyo will be on the right and Jordan Harvey will be on the left.
The midfield should be a diamond once again with Alain Rochat playing the holding role with Gershon Koffie on the left and John Thorrington on the right while Barry Robson returns to the starting eleven to play the tip. To help with counter attack opportunities, the Caps will have Darren Mattocks and Dane Richards combine and use their pace up top.
In the three previous matchups this season against LA, the Whitecaps have played three different types of games with the first one being the most lopsided as the game was over at half time. At home in the second game the Whitecaps dominated their opponents but fell asleep late in the game dropping two points. In their last meeting, the Caps tried to play a tight defensive game but were beaten by a couple of unstoppable goals.
While a repeat of the second game, except for the late collapse, would be ideal for the Caps, the blueprint of third game may be their best bet for a win. A tight defensive game that frustrates the Galaxy gives the Caps the best chance to win the game especially if they can catch them on a surprise counter attack.
If they do get the opportunity in the final third, the attackers must be more direct to goal and be clinical in their finish. There may be attention to the defensive side of the game but the midfielders will need to take calculated risks and make appropriate runs into the box to give support to the strikers. Increasing the number of crosses into the box would be helpful especially with the leaping ability of Mattocks.
It will be a tough task for the Whitecaps to keep all that skill at bay but the Whitecaps will need to keep their shape and frustrate the Galaxy in their buildup through the midfield. The Caps have been guilty on a number of occasions of giving too much space to their opponents which have led to a few goals from outside of the box. With the talent LA possesses there is no chance the Caps will survive if they allow the Beckhams and Juninhos time to pick the destination of their shot.
With it being only their second year in MLS the Whitecaps have already transformed the culture of the squad. The players need to go into this game composed and relaxed with a hint of a nothing to lose mentality which could give them a chance to pull off a shocker.
Darren Mattocks vs. Omar Gonzalez
Against a high powered the Whitecaps will need goals and where else will they turn to but Darren Mattocks who led the team in goals in his rookie season despite that he missed a significant time with injuries and suspensions.
The Caps will need his pace to stretch the Galaxy backline giving more space to the midfield while they move forward in the attack. In order to accomplish the Jamaican international will have to deal with one of the better defenders in MLS, Omar Gonzalez. It is no coincidence that the team’s defensive game improved since he returned from his knee injury. In his 12 starts, that he played 90 minutes, LA allowed 12 goals while in the other 22 games the team allowed 32 goals against.
Andy O’Brien vs. Robbie Keane
It’s a battle of two Irish internationals on this side of the pitch as Andy O’Brien, who has yet to play against the Galaxy, will look to lead the backline for the Caps. O’Brien has made a significant difference in the last four games of the season as the Caps have only allowed one goal in those matches. The defender has shown composure on the ball while continually organizing the backline with his nonstop chatter.
In any other season, Keane would be in the running for the MLS golden boot as the majority of his 16 goals came after his return from Euro 2012. In those 19 games since his return there were only 4 matches when the striker did not contribute with a goal or an assist.