In the annals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, there probably has never been a matchup quite like the one between the LA Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps. Despite just nine points separating them in the standings, the league's observers seem to have fallen into lock step over the belief that the Galaxy are merely needing to go through the motions in order to advance.
Literally every editor over at MLSsoccer.com picked the Galaxy to advance. The only question is, can they win the whole darn thing?
To be fair, the Galaxy are the rightful favorites. this game is being played at Home Depot Center where the Whitecaps have never won. Since early July the Galaxy are 10-2-3, while the Whitecaps are 3-9-3 over the same timeframe. The Galaxy have an offense that features Landon Donovan, Robbie and Keane and a defense anchored by Omar Gonzalez. The Whitecaps may well end up benching their two highest paid players, Barry Robson and Kenny Miller. We could go on.
But the MLS Cup playoffs are designed for parity and upsets happen all the time. Did anyone give FC Dallas a chance to beat the Galaxy over two legs in 2010? Who picked Toronto FC to beat the Galaxy in CONCACAF Champions League earlier this year? The Whitecaps figuring out how to win one game is hardly impossible.
The Whitecaps' best chance is probably nag a goal and park the bus. If the Galaxy get even one goal, it's hard to see the Whitecaps overcoming that.
The Galaxy aren't going to make that easy. They haven't been shut out since Aug. 5. The time before that was way back on May 19. In their last 23 games, they've scored 47 goals. They've got five players with at least five goals this season. Their top four goal-scorers have more than the entire Whitecaps team.
There's a danger, though. While the Whitecaps are almost certainly going to pack it in, they have some speedy players that can cause havoc on the counter-attack. Darren Mattocks and Dane Richards will be looking to break out behind the Galaxy back line at the slightest opening, with long balls over the top being the likely method of attack.
For all his strengths, Omar Gonzalez has not been great when back-pedaling. His partner Tommy Meyer is not exactly fleet of foot either. That puts a fair amount of pressure on Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin to hold their ground on the outside and not get sucked into the attack, where they are probably most effective.
If the Galaxy get an early goal, all of the Whitecaps' potential strengths are neutralized and this could turn into a blowout most seem to assume it will be. But the Whitecaps at least have a puncher's chance.