CARSON, Calif. – The Vancouver Whitecaps FC are 1-6-3 in their last 10 games and haven’t won on the road since July 4 in Colorado. They also did not score a single goal on the Galaxy in two road games this season, losing 3-0 in June and 2-0 in September.
Sounds like a mismatch in Thursday’s MLS Knockout Round game at The Home Depot Center (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network, Univision Deportes, 1330 AM, LIVE CHAT), doesn’t it?
Don’t believe it for a second.
The defending MLS Cup champions know better than to overlook their Western Conference rival on Thursday, with the winner taking on the San Jose Earthquakes in the Conference Semifinals. One thing they’re not about to do is take them lightly.
“We’re not going to underestimate them at all,” said Edson Buddle, who appears fully recovered from June surgery on his right knee. “The playoffs are kind of a clean slate and they’re motivated to beat us.
“We’re defending champions and they’re kind of the underdog. I’m sure they like that role. We’re going to go out and play hard and treat them like any other team.”
Thursday’s game will mark the fourth meeting between the sides this season, with the Galaxy owning a 2-0-1 record. That lone tie, however, was an entertaining 2-2 draw in Vancouver on July 18 in which the Galaxy rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the final 10 minutes and salvaged a point on Jose Villareal’s brilliant, last-minute goal.
The Galaxy’s Mike Magee, who has three goals in his career against the Whitecaps, asked to comment on Vancouver’s struggles this season, pointed out the Whitecaps earned a surprising 0-0 tie at Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
“That makes them all the more dangerous,” said Magee, whose goal Sunday gave the Galaxy a 1-0 victory over Seattle Sounders FC to close out the regular season. “They’ve been solidified in that five spot (in the Western Conference standings) for a couple of weeks now.
“If we look at it that way then our season’s going to be over in a couple of days.”
The Whitecaps have struggled for goals of late, scoring just seven goals in their last 10 games, with four of those coming in a 4-0 demolition of Chivas USA on October 3. Rookie Darren Mattocks, the club’s top scorer with seven goals this season, has not scored since late July while Kenny Miller, a Scottish international who was signed by the Whitecaps as a Designated Player in July, has managed just two goals in 13 appearances for the club. For last weekend’s season finale at Real Salt Lake, Whitecaps FC coach Martin Rennie made the surprising decision to leave both Miller and fellow Designated Player Barry Robson on the bench, with each coming on with less than 20 minutes remaining in a game that saw Vancouver register just five shots, only one of which was on target.
The Galaxy don’t know if Rennie is planning similar strategy for Thursday, but they do count on seeing a lot of Miller and Robson one way or the other.
“We’ll see them,” associated head coach Dave Sarachan said. “We’re not sure how it’s going to play out, whether they’re starters at the beginning of the game or brought into the game.
“I would find it hard to believe we don’t see them in one capacity or the other.”
Said Magee, “We’re expecting a team to come in here and play hard and give us their best game. I don’t think it matters who they put on the field, what they say or who we’re playing.
“We’ve got to play our hardest because teams are trying to get what we have.”