CARSON, CALIFORNIA – The Vancouver Whitecaps battled the LA Galaxy in the first round of the MLS playoffs in front of 14,703 fans at the Home Depot Center on Thursday night. The Whitecaps game plan was to shut the door and park the bus in front of goalie Brad Knighton and hope that they could make it to penalty kicks tied at 0-0 after 120 minutes. To everyone’s surprise that plan had a slight alteration after Darren Mattocks scored for Vancouver in the 4th minute. The kitty bar the door strategy implored by Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie worked for 69 minutes until the Whitecaps conceded the tying goal scored by Mike Magee. Landon Donovan scored on a controversial penalty kick four minutes later to put the Galaxy up 2-1. Vancouver was unable to find another goal, after playing a terrific brand of defensive soccer for the majority of the game.
Matt Watson played a tremendous game for the Whitecaps and was instrumental in setting up the Whitecaps early goal. Watson went around Hector Jimenez like he was frozen in cement. Watson played the ball over to Mattocks, who made wonderful run and stop to get away from a pair of Galaxy defenders. Mattocks got his foot on the ball and scored off the post and in past Galaxy goalie Josh Saunders. The Galaxy players and Whitecaps fans everywhere looked stunned by the early Vancouver goal. After the soccer world picked up their jaws off the ground the LA Galaxy began to pick up their play. LA had 6 corners in the opening half, and they controlled the entire first half after Vancouver scored.
In the first half David Beckham was the most dangerous player on the pitch as he sent in numerous crosses his teammates just weren’t able to get squared on. Andy O’Brien and Jay DeMerit played a crucial part in clearing away Beckham’s attempted crosses. Just before the end of the first half the Galaxy were awarded a free kick just outside the Whitecaps box. Beckham curled a brilliant effort on goal that Brad Knighton was able to save from going in. LA had over 70% ball possession in the first half, but were unlucky not to find the tying goal going into half-time.
Whatever LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said to his team at the half must have inspired his team to keep going after a frustrating opening half. The Galaxy continued to dominate the run of play, while Vancouver was content on sitting back and defending their precarious 1-0 lead. With the Galaxy pressing the Whitecaps were able to get on a fast break in the 67th minute that should have resulted in another goal. Matt Watson, Kenny Miller, and Barry Robson all failed to convert when the Galaxy failed to get back on defense. Watson had his shot from point-blank range saved, Miller failed to get a good shot off, and Robson took too much time before doing anything but scoring. The Galaxy cleared the ball and away and that’s when you knew the Whitecaps really missed a glorious chance to put the Galaxy away for good.
A few minutes later in the 69th minute the Galaxy were given another corner which finally resulted in a goal for them. Beckham played the ball to Juninho who was able to find an unmarked Mike Magee in the box. Magee scored off a cracker of a volley that Brad Knighton had no chance to save. To make matters worse Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit had to leave the game after the goal due to a reported groin injury that had been hobbling him all game. Martin Bonjour came on for DeMerit and was subsequently involved in the most controversial play in the 73rd minute.
Bonjour had his arm wrapped around Landon Donovan’s neck as the star midfielder was going for a through ball in the Whitecaps box. Donovan went to ground rather easily and Canadian referee Silviu Petrescu pointed to the spot to give LA a suspect penalty. Donovan stepped up and beat Knighton high up top. In just four minutes the Whitecaps went from leading the game to being behind with not much hope of find an equalizing goal.
Speedy Jamaican midfielder Dane Richards came on for Matt Watson with 10 minutes to play in an effort to find a goal for the visiting Whitecaps. The Galaxy sat back and Vancouver finally touched the ball and ran with it. However it was all too little too late as the Whitecaps failed to create any concrete opportunities to tie the game 2-2. The Whitecaps defensive strategy once again failed to bring them a victory. Usually a solid defensive game plan in the post-season leads to a championship or at least some playoff success in sports… but if you don’t create much offense you leave yourself no room for an error or a shady penalty kick call.
In just their second MLS season the Whitecaps exceeded expectations and became the first Canadian MLS team to make the playoffs. The Whitecaps have a lot to be proud of for what they accomplished this year. The team, fans, and media will all expect next season to be even better than what we saw on the pitch in 2012. Vancouver can certainly improve in many aspects of the game. As long as they continue to take steps in the right direction there is no reason why the Vancouver Whitecaps can’t be a legitimate contender for the MLS Cup in 2013.
Notes: Vancouver Whitecaps Minority Owner and LA Lakers point guard Steve Nash was resting his injured knee and did not attend the game as previously planned. The LA Galaxy will play the MLS regular season champion San Jose Earthquakes in the 2nd round of MLS playoff action with the 1st leg occurring at the Home Depot Center on Sunday, November 4 at 6:00pm P.T.