Going forward: Whitecaps on attack vs LA Galaxy
01/11/2012 § Leave a comment
This Thursday will mark the Whitecaps’ first ever venture into the MLS playoffs and with it, representation as the first ever Canadian team to make this stage, following the continuing demise of Toronto FC back east. It’s a proud moment for honest head coach Martin Rennie in his inaugural season in Vancouver. The Scot has rejuvenated the team and brought about a defensive stability that has made the ‘Caps hard to beat and united the squad and fans as one.
For most, this would be the ideal scenario heading into their playoffs debut. But the Whitecaps could hardly have asked for a tougher draw. The Los Angeles Galaxy are the most high profile MLS club in the world and have really found their form in the latter stages of the season heading into this winner-takes-all match up at the Home Depot Center.
Nevertheless, as previously mentioned, Rennie has really shored up the Whitecaps rearguard. Before he came in, the problem was simple- the team was just conceding far too many goals in games under predecessors Teitur Thordarson and Tom Soehn to give themselves a chance. This season captian Jay DeMerit has been like a man possessed and the acquisition of Irish journeyman central defender Andy O’Brien to play alongside the American has strengthened things even more, as well as the inspirational move to play Alain Rochat in a holding midfield roll.
Therefore, it will be no surprise if Rennie chooses to go with a 4-5-1 formation in LA and pack the midfield. Like every good Scottish gaffer, he is cautious and builds from the back, setting a foundation on good defending. But in my opinion, to adopt that plan on Thursday would just be suicidal and asking for trouble.
The Whitecaps can’t just sit back, hope to soak up pressure, give the Galaxy players time on the ball and hit them on the counter attack. The home team have too much quality through the likes of Donovan, Keane, Beckham and Buddle in their attacking ranks and will just pick Rennie’s team off. Two humiliating defeats earlier in the season at the Home Depot Center of 3-0 and 2-0 would indicate exactly that! This time round the best form of defence will surely be attack.
So it’s time to fight fire with fire. There are still question marks of who exactly Rennie will choose to complete his starting 11 after leaving fellow Scots Barry Robson and goal-shy Kenny Miller out of the last regular season game in the draw at Real Salt Lake. But the two designated players were brought in for a reason. To come up big for the club in the big games. Their stage is set- the two must now go out and seize the opportunity.
Robson has such a cultured left foot and can pick a pass from anywhere. He has a reputation in his homeland for textbook deliveries from set plays and a nack of finding the net from free kicks. His vision may be the key to unlocking the home team’s defence. Miller has been there and done it all and lead the line in so many big games for club and country over the years. His never-say-die attitude and refusal to give in will be priceless for the Caps in this game.
So in terms of the attacking half of the team, with Miller and Robson picked, that figures out two of the front six. Koffie and Rochat pick themselves. So that leaves another wide player and a striker to partner Miller. I would choose Dane Richards for the wide role. Even though he was used as an up-front striker in Salt Lake City, his pace and power may prove to be a crucial outlet for the Caps if they are under pressure. The Galaxy are a team that seem most vulnerable when teams go at them and push them back down field. Richards has the quality to make this happen. At the end of the day, the Whitecaps need goals to win this game, and Richards just gets the nod ahead of John Thorrington due to his goal threat.
So who partners Miller? Camilo or Darren Mattocks? Well, the former Brazilian has so much individual talent but has been erratic and unreliable with his finishing. The Whitecaps may not get many chances in LA, so they have to be clinical. Some fans have been crying out for a Miller/Mattocks partnership for a while now, maybe this is the moment for the two with their electrifying pace to shine.
After a dismal start, Bruce Arena’s Galaxy team have been on a 13-4-4 run to close the regular season. They have lost just twice in their last 16 games. But the Whitecaps have to head into this game with a confidence and belief, so much of which coach Rennie will be hoping to drill into his team. They must press the Galaxy hard and win the ball high up the field in order to create attacking opportunities as well as go forward in numbers. And if they do that, and provide the service to Miller, Mattocks and co, they might, just might cause an upset.