• Vancouver Whitecaps become first Canadian team in playoffs
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• Or emails to 02, November 2012
End of an era?
Given some of the enigmatic statements and speculation coming out of LA tonight, could this be the last we'll see of David Beckham and Landon Donovan as Galaxy players?
They're walking out of the tunnel with their team mates now though.
@kidweil My understanding was that the Galaxy "school night" capacity issue was due to the uni. using the stadium's parking, not noise.— Jesse Ziter (@jesseziter) November 2, 2012
Student parking jokes are less funny, but I stand corrected, unless someone wants to chime in with a third opinion.
Other sports are available
In case you tuned in expecting the game to have kicked off already I can tell you that NBCSN are still showing a CFL game, with the soccer guaranteed to follow immediately afterwards. No comment.
Get ready to dive in to the game though...
Phil in Vancouver writes:
"I'm betting Miller sits and Robson starts. Robson very effective against Beckham in previous games. Will keep Miller in reserve for extra time and penalties. Expect Caps to park the bus in defence and play for spot kicks."
He's right you know. About Miller and Robson at least. The rest, well, we'll see shortly.
Enough prattling (for a minute). Here are the teams.
LA Galaxy: Saunders; Dunivant, Gonzalez, Meyer, Jimenez; Donovan, Juninho, Beckham, Magee; Keane, Buddle
Vancouver Whitecaps: Knighton; Lee, O'Brien, DeMerit, Harvey; Koffie, Rochat, Thorrington, Watson; Robson, Mattocks
So Robson pushed up to play with the speedy Mattocks, and no start for Miller, for the visitors, while Keane and Buddle look to continue up front for the hosts.
Both Beckham and Donovan start. The latter looked very short of match fitness despite playing 90 minutes last week. We'll watch how he does carefully.
Midweek games at the Home Depot Center traditionally have a capped attendance. The Galaxy stadium is on a University Campus and part of the agreement for their using it is that for reasons of noise and disruption on school nights, the stadium has a dramatically lowered capacity. In the past it’s made for some faintly surreal CCL games at the venue. For this game though, the Galaxy hierarchy have secured a special dispensation to operate at normal levels.
Won’t someone think of the students? They’re usually in bed by eight.
It's funny - the very solidity that makes the Whitecaps unfazed by the San Jose Earthquakes physicality, is perhaps the same basis for the Galaxy's confidence against them - the home side fancy their chances for their movement to do some damage.
Agree that the first 20 minutes will be vital for the Whitecaps not to concede in.
Martin Rennie has raised the expectations of Whitecaps fans since his arrival - possibly to standards even he is struggling to meet. Just as the reputation of Omar Gonzalez ballooned in his absence, the reputation of Rennie as an MLS coach grew before a ball had been kicked, as his off-season wheeler-dealing and overhaul of a squad that had drifted through their expansion season, had some pundits tipping them as an outside shot to win the West.
The Whitecaps started solidly and confidently, and were getting results. Maybe not with great style, but last season they didn’t have style or results. From the platform of being difficult to beat, Rennie tried to add some more flair to his side with his mid-season moves, and from the outside it became fairly apparent that the speed of change had begun to overtake the rate of improvement and some of the basics began to get neglected. The Whitecaps began losing ground to their playoff bound peers then found themselves desperately staving off an FC Dallas late-season revival in a storyline they should never have been involved with. Perhaps as much due to others as themselves, the Whitecaps found themselves in the playoffs, and now Rennie faces the task of taking them further.
His first tactic for doing so: mind games. Will he play his Designated Player duo of Kenny Miller and Barry Robson? The pair were benched for RSL last week, but was that because they’ve been a little underwhelming or were they being rested with tonight in mind. Rennie’s been coy on the matter, in a manner his opposite number Bruce Arena might nod approvingly at, but the fact remains that whatever side the Whitecaps coach puts out they’ll need to be at their best to win tonight.
That said, if the Whitecaps could get through tonight, San Jose would hold no fears for them:
Before the season started, you wouldn’t have had many people saying you’d see the Galaxy in this game. Any expectations that the side that had fulfilled David Beckham’s American Destiny™ would suffer a slump, were tempered by them news that the Galaxy seemed to be both holding a stacked roster together and even augmenting it in places during the off-season, with a tilt at the Champions League firmly in their sights. Buddle was back to augment the offense, even Beckham decided he couldn’t bear to leave, and while the freak injury to Omar Gonzalez was a blow, surely it couldn’t be that significant. Then came Toronto - a CCL defeat that was put into further dispiriting context as the season developed and Toronto became Toronto (pronounced the same, but with a wince). The league form fell apart as the gap left by Gonzalez assumed the proportions of a vortex of doom, and by May, the same people who wouldn’t have said you’d see the Galaxy in this game, were still thinking you wouldn’t see the Galaxy in this game, but for different reasons, as LA languished at the bottom of the West.
Gradually the ship stabilized and the Galaxy began to climb the standings. Robbie Keane, with a full season under his belt (other than the brief Euro jaunt), began to adjust to the game here, and showed how lethal he can still be in front of goal; Gonzalez returned and Tommy Meyer slowly picked up the slack even when DeLaGarza got injured; the culture of the club generally began to tilt back to an air of expectation rather than unease - not least because the senior players began to demand it.
The 2011 Galaxy who would find a way out of every tight game via a 1-0 win has not returned, but the Galaxy who were leaking goals at the start of the season seems to have been banished and they’ll go into the play-offs as confident as any other side.
Previously, on LA vs Vancouver...
Playoffs day two. Last night we learned that Chicago Fire’s season has (insert burning pun here), after they (insert “flamed out” style phrase here) to Houston Dynamo in last night’s Eastern Conference wild-card game. The Dynamo played a very impressive road game and now get to add their vaunted home form into the mix when they play Sporting Kansas City in the semi-finals.
Enough of the East for now though — and let’s go West to the Home Depot Center, where LA Galaxy are taking on Vancouver Whitecaps in the Western Conference wild-card game, with the winner set to face San Jose Earthquakes in the Western semi-final.
It’s one of those games that seems so set up in favour of the Galaxy that you actually wonder if Vancouver might just be poised to spring a surprise here. The Galaxy are at home, look to be peaking at just the right time, and their form in the second half of the season has been pretty irresistible (with one or two hiccups). They’ve also dominated the Whitecaps since Vancouver arrived in the league. The Whitecaps on the other hand have been pretty horrible for the last couple of months and just about scraped into the playoffs. They’ve experienced huge personnel turnover and a cultural transformation under Martin Rennie since their 2011 expansion year, that takes time to cohere, and they’ve not shown they know how to beat the Galaxy. A consensus seems to have emerged that they’ve had a good year just making the playoffs, and if they can build in the offseason they should be a more credible threat next year. In other words, Vancouver Whitecaps are going to win MLS Cup...
It’s not the most likely outcome, but even the most homer-ish of Galaxy commentators is pretty aware that this game is a banana skin for the reigning champions, if they are to reach the slightly more predictable ground of 180 minutes of soccer, rather than 90, deciding their fate. Whitecaps commentators are generally going for studied fatalism - though you can tell there’s a little bit of the dangerous hope that fans like to dose themselves with, lurking just beneath the surface.
Will Vancouver spring a surprise? Will the Galaxy take the scenic route back to MLS Cup? You can see what our regular fan previewers for both teams say about the game here, and of course you can read our general playoff guide here. Why don’t you do that and come back in a bit? I’ll be here, trying to unstick the return key and browsing the tweets and emails you send to @KidWeil or email@example.com with your thoughts, predictions and superstitious rituals. Then I’ll be with you for more build up and team news before the game kicks off.