102912_isi_mlsdb03172012155 David Bernal/isiphotos.com
ASN Playoff Preview

Can the Whitecaps Shock the LA Galaxy?

The defending MLS Cup champions are at home and on fire. But Jay DeMerit is not one to go down without a fight. Jon Arnold looks at the key factors that will play a role in Thursday night's play-in game.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
October 29, 2012
8:00 PM
Editor's note: ASN plans to preview every MLS playoff series. Create your ideal Starting XI for the Los Angeles Galaxy or the Vancouver Whitecaps.

INTRO: The Los Angeles Galaxy begin their defense of MLS Cup in a knockout round match tonight against Vancouver (10:30pm Eastern, NBCSN & TSN). With star players like Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Robbie Keane, and Omar Gonzalez, the preseason favorite is poised to make another run at a trophy. The Whitecaps, who become the first Canadian team to make the MLS playoffs, stand in the way. The Galaxy, of course, have been here before, popping the bubbly last season. While the Whitecaps are the underdog, veteran captain Jay DeMerit and company won't just fold in Southern California.

HISTORY: The Whitecaps have never beaten the Galaxy, though the teams have met only five times in league competition. The closest match was a 2-2 draw July 18 of this year. The Whitecaps jumped out to a 2-0 lead and controlled the first half only to have the Galaxy mount a charge and draw level in the second. More recently, the Galaxy posted a 2-0 win in the Home Depot Center on September 1 with Juninho and Beckham providing the goals. In that match, Vancouver manager Martin Rennie rested several regulars in hopes that they would be fresher for crucial matches down the stretch.

MATCHUPS: The Galaxy's lineup features plenty of stars, but everything revolves around Landon Donovan. His skill, coupled with DPs Beckham and Keane, is a large reason why the Galaxy were overwhelming favorites to repeat before the season started. The return of Edson Buddle to the squad will help as well. DeMerit, the anti-whining defender, Designated Player YP Lee, and the rest of the Whitecaps defensive unit will be busy.

While the Galaxy's attack drew plenty of attention, the team struggled until Gonzalez returned from injury. That unit will be without hard-working center back A.J. DeLaGarza, but rookie Tommy Meyer has stepped in next to Gonzalez. Todd Dunivant, back in the squad at left back after injury issues earlier this month, and Sean Franklin flank the men in the middle. Franklin came out at the half Sunday, but should be ready to go Thursday. "We’re in the right place health-wise, I think we feel good," Donovan said over the weekend.

Vancouver's attack boasts two dangerous Jamaicans (Darren Mattocks and Dane Richards) and two scary Scots (Kenny Miller and Barry Robson) who could go after Meyer, plus crafty Brazilian Camilo. If one of those guys can sneak on past the Galaxy D and keeper Josh Saunders early, it could break things open.

TACTICS: The Galaxy have struggled to get width in the attack this season, which is why they brought in Christian Wilhelmsson. The Swede plays on the right side of Bruce Arena's 4-4-2 and adds a new element. It's a veteran midfield, but what they might lack in speed—Donovan and Beckham are both coming off recent injuries—they make up in tact and skill.

On the Whitecaps side, Rennie recently started employing 4-3-1-2 formation. The team is at its best when Robson is crafting the club's plays, although he was dropped from the Starting XI recently. Rennie loved how his player handled the news: “His attitude to it all and his response and the way he played, it was absolutely top-class. I was really pleased, and again today in training, he was brilliant.” Gershon Koffie has been good on both wings. Rennie also likes to keep his attack fresh with early substitutions, interchanging his forwards. He even brought in Omar Salgado in the penultimate match of the season as a midfield sub. Salgado, recovering from a foot fracture, is unlikely to feature, but the Scottish manager keeps things unpredictable.

PREDICTION: It's tough to see anything except a Galaxy victory in Southern California. The home side is near full strength at the best possible time. The defending champions' cluster of stars coupled with the Whitecaps' recent struggles and inability to win away from BC Place should mean LA marches on. Vancouver has some dangerous players, but the Galaxy's convincing win against Seattle on Sunday showed how dangerous the focused, powerful team can be. With Arena at the helm and a veteran roster, don't expect to see anything less Thursday. Galaxy 3-1 Whitecaps.

READER FEEDBACK: So, what do you think? Does Vancouver have any chance to send the Galaxy packing? Will Rennie keep his two highest-played players on the bench as he did against Real Salt Lake? Will we see more gorgeous passes from Landon Donovan? Is this his last go-round for an MLS Cup? Tell us in the comments below.

Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) is a freelance writer based in Phoenix and the co-host of MLS in 30 on NASN.TV.

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