Head-to-Head: A closer look at Whitecaps FC's playoff clash in LA

Assessing Thursday's big playoff game in LA

It is a match-up that is as much exciting, as it looks daunting, for Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s first-ever game in the MLS Cup Playoffs. A trip to Southern California to face LA Galaxy has not been enjoyable historically…but the postseason has a strange way of painting a different picture…

There are key match-ups that will determine who will move on from the First Knockout Round and meet San Jose Earthquakes in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Some involve particular battles on the pitch, while the execution of game plans will also play a role at The Home Depot Center on Thursday night. With their 2012 seasons on the line, we look at how Whitecaps FC and the Galaxy match up in this first-ever playoff meeting between both clubs.

THE MIDFIELD BATTLE

Most soccer games are won and lost in the midfield, and Thursday will likely be no different. For Whitecaps FC, the need for big midfield performances will be essential, with Gershon Koffie, Barry Robson, and Alain Rochat likely in strong consideration to play crucial roles. Should ‘Caps head Martin Rennie opt to pose a threat in the wide areas, then Dane Richards and Camilo Sanvezzo may be called upon.

LA offer a powerful midfield set. Galaxy star David Beckham is known to be a man for the big occasion, while the ‘Caps will not want to give Juninho sights at goal from long range. Landon Donovan may be employed to attack from a wide midfield position by Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, while Swedish international Christian Wilhelmsson has been a welcome addition on LA’s right-hand side.

THE FINAL THIRD

At both ends of the pitch, the duels that will be fought on Thursday may be the ones that supporters will remember the most. Captain Jay DeMerit and the Whitecaps FC backline are facing a high-octane Galaxy strike force that combined for 29 goals this season.

Robbie Keane’s intelligence and skill pose a major threat, while the return to fitness of Edson Buddle offers LA a legitimate aerial target. Donovan’s driving runs not only create chances for himself, but his teammates. The ‘Caps defence know they have a big task in front of them.

And yet, the Galaxy defenders will think the same when considering the need to contain the speedy Darren Mattocks, the experienced Kenny Miller, or the skillful Camilo. LA centre back Omar Gonzalez is a tower of strength, but Galaxy rookie Tommy Meyer will be in the spotlight in what could be his first MLS playoff game.

THE FULLBACK FACTOR

The difference makers in Thursday’s match may be the attack-minded fullbacks that both clubs possess. Any one of the following four players may just find themselves with an assist to their name by the end of the night.

Whitecaps FC’s Young-Pyo Lee and Jordan Harvey have supplied several goals from wide areas this season. Remember Lee’s cross that set up Robson’s header in the 2-2 home draw with LA? And what about Harvey’s crosses that created goals on the road for Mattocks this season?

The Galaxy have a dangerous fullback pairing themselves. Expect Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin to support the LA attack with forward runs, especially if Buddle offers the duo a target to cross to from their respective flanks.