Embarking on their first-ever match in the MLS Cup Playoffs, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (11W-13L-10D in the regular season) head to Southern California to take on defending Major League Soccer champions LA Galaxy (16W-12L-6D in the regular season) in the Western Conference’s First Round Knockout match on Thursday evening.
A fifth-place finish in the Western Conference standings meant the Blue and White became the first Canadian club to qualify for the MLS postseason. What lies in front of Martin Rennie’s squad is a six-match journey to the MLS Cup title, starting with a fifth visit of 2012 to The Home Depot Center to face a Galaxy side that have yet to lose a competitive match to Whitecaps FC since Vancouver joined MLS in 2011.
Whitecaps FC versus LA Galaxy from The Home Depot Center in Carson, California, kicks off at 7:30 p.m. PT and can be seen live on TSN, RDS2, and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to Thursday’s playoff match live on TEAM 1040 radio (change from TEAM 1410) and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 6 p.m. PT. TEAM 1040 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 9:30 p.m. PT. *Whitecaps FC fans on Vancouver Island can also listen to Thursday’s playoff match live on CFAX 1070 Victoria*. Fans can also follow Thursday’s playoff match on Twitter @WhitecapsMatch.
2012 MLS CUP PLAYOFFS
Whitecaps FC’s trip to LA Galaxy is one of two First Round Knockout matches to start this year’s MLS Cup Playoffs this week, with the top-five clubs in both the Eastern and Western Conferences set to contest the 2012 league title.
The two First Round Knockout matches and the MLS Cup final will be contested as single-match contests. Should a match be tied at the end of regulation, two 15-minute extra-time periods will be played in their entirety. Should a match be tied at the end of extra time, then a penalty shootout will be used to determine the winner.
The conference semifinals and conference championships will be contested as two-match, aggregate goals series, with the lower seed hosting the first leg and the higher seed hosting the second leg. If the aggregate score is tied at the end of regulation of the second leg, then two 15-minute extra-time periods will be played in their entirety. If the series remains tied after extra time, then a penalty shootout will be used to determine the series winner. *Unlike the Amway Canadian Championship, CONCACAF Champions League, or European club competitions, the 'Away Goals' rule is NOT in effect as an aggregate tiebreaker in the MLS Cup Playoffs*.
In the west, the winner of fifth seed Vancouver versus fourth-seed LA will face MLS Supporters’ Shield winners and top Western Conference seed San Jose Earthquakes in one of two Western Conference Semifinals, with second seed Real Salt Lake meeting third seed Seattle Sounders FC in the other semifinal. The winners will then contest the Western Conference Championship.
In the east, the First Round Knockout match between fourth-seeded hosts Chicago Fire and fifth seed Houston Dynamo on Halloween (Wednesday, October 31) will determine the opposition for top seed Sporting Kansas City in one of two Eastern Conference Semifinals. Second seed D.C. United will face arch-rivals and third seed New York Red Bulls in the other semifinal. The winners will then contest the Eastern Conference Championship. The two conference championship winners will then meet for this year’s MLS Cup on Saturday, December 1, with the final to be hosted by the club that finished the regular season with the most points in the MLS Supporters’ Shield standings.
The playoffs have arrived and Rennie’s side know anything is possible at this time of year. The build-up to Thursday’s match in LA has seen Whitecaps FC be written off as having any chance of claiming a result at The Home Depot Center by many MLS observers. As sweeping those predictions have been, the ‘underdog’ tag placed on the ‘Caps will not have come as a surprise to Vancouver and may be the type of scenario that inspires a big performance from the Blue and White.
Last weekend’s goalless draw at Real Salt Lake provided good grounding for what the ‘Caps can expect from the Galaxy. There will be confidence in the backline after three clean sheets were earned in their last four regular season matches, with captain Jay DeMerit striking up a very good understanding with summer acquisition Andy O’Brien in the centre of Vancouver’s defence.
A big decision for Rennie will be the midfield and attack line-up he employs for Thursday’s match. The speed and quickness of Darren Mattocks and Dane Richards gave Salt Lake’s defence several problems last Saturday, and that should have the ‘Caps head coach pondering his options. It is also the type of match that could bring out the talismanic qualities of Barry Robson and Kenny Miller, as the pair’s experience for the big occasion cannot be underestimated when considering what may occur in Carson, California.
One positive for Whitecaps FC is the overall fitness of the squad at this stage of the season. Only youngster Omar Salgado (foot) and fellow striker Etienne Barbara (lower back) are unavailable to face the Galaxy.
As MLS Cup holders, Bruce Arena’s side know now is time to put together a successful title defence. Part of those initial plans did not include Thursday’s match, as the Galaxy had their eyes on a higher finish in the Western Conference standings. Nonetheless, LA will be confident of claiming the expected result over Vancouver and mounting a strong playoff push. An undefeated all-time record of 4W-0L-1D versus Whitecaps FC tips the balance of this playoff match in LA’s favour, as does their postseason record at The Home Depot Center (9W-1L-0D since 2003).
For the Galaxy to be successful, their Designated Player trio have big roles in assuring there are no surprises on Thursday night. Robbie Keane’s 16 goals during the regular season earned him LA’s Most Valuable Player honour and the club’s Golden Boot as top goalscorer, while David Beckham and Landon Donovan are proven match winners. With their season on the line, expect all three to start against Vancouver, despite Beckham (ankle) and Donovan (knee) being listed as questionable for Thursday’s match.
Where there are concerns amongst Galaxy followers is with their defensive backline. The loss of A.J. DeLaGarza to a knee injury has seen Arena use a central defensive partnership of Omar Gonzalez and Tommy Meyer in LA’s last three MLS matches. The pair have been tested in those three games and it will be interesting to see if they are successful in containing the likes of a Mattocks, Miller, and Richards.
LA’s casualty list includes two more defenders in Leonardo (knee) and David Junior Lopes (facial fracture), while midfielder Kyle Nakazawa is sidelined with back spasms.
Thursday’s playoff match will be the sixth competitive meeting between Whitecaps FC and the Galaxy since Vancouver joined MLS in 2011. In their three regular season meetings in 2012, Whitecaps FC suffered a 3-0 away defeat to the Galaxy on June 23. Goals by Mike Magee and Keane were followed by a Donovan penalty in a dominant first-half display by LA at The Home Depot Center. Whitecaps FC earned their first point versus the Galaxy on July 18, despite being held to a 2-2 draw at BC Place. Gershon Koffie and Robson gave Whitecaps FC a two-goal halftime lead, but Beckham and young substitute Jose Villarreal earned LA an away point in the late stages. Their last meeting on September 1 went the way of the Galaxy, as a first-half strike by Juninho and a trademark Beckham free kick gave LA a 2-0 home win.
Prior to 2011, Whitecaps FC and the Galaxy faced each other in two friendly contests when Vancouver were a North American second division club. On November 7, 2007, a crowd of 48,172 filled BC Place to see the 'Caps draw 0-0 with LA, while on May 13, 2008, Vancouver defeated the Galaxy 2-1 in front of 37,104 fans at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta.
Whitecaps FC also have prior history of playing clubs from the ‘City of Angels’. During the days of the old North American Soccer League, Vancouver played Los Angeles Aztecs 19 times between 1974 and 1981. The 'Caps registered a 10W-9L overall record and a 3W-7L record versus the Aztecs in LA. Carl Valentine was Whitecaps FC's all-time leading scorer against the Aztecs with four goals, while Bob Lenarduzzi scored two goals against LA during that era. Then in the days of the old American Professional Soccer League, Vancouver played Los Angeles Salsa 10 times between 1993 and 1994. They registered a 3W-7L overall record and a 2W-2L record in LA.
Between 1974 and 2012, Whitecaps FC have an all-time record of 13W-20L-1D versus clubs from LA and a 5W-12L-0D all-time record in the ‘City of Angels’. This makes Thursday’s playoff game the 35th time Whitecaps FC have played a competitive match versus an LA-based club.
There are several connections between Whitecaps FC and the Galaxy. ‘Caps goalkeeper Joe Cannon played for LA in 2007 and was teammates with Donovan at the Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes. Keane and Young-Pyo Lee were teammates at English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur FC. The Galaxy duo of goalkeeper Josh Saunders and defender Bryan Jordan all played against Whitecaps FC at the North American second division level. Arena and Whitecaps FC director of soccer operations Tom Soehn are former D.C. United head coaches, while Jordan Harvey and Brad Knighton were teammates with LA goalkeeper Brian Perk at Philadelphia Union.
Secure your seats now at BC Place for the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs! Should the Blue and White win at LA Galaxy in Thursday’s First Round Knockout match, they will host the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal series versus MLS Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, November 4. Should Whitecaps FC advance from that two-leg semifinal series, they will host the first leg of the Western Conference Championship series on Sunday, November 11. CLICK HERE for more information on Whitecaps FC single match playoff tickets.