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Kick Off: Whitecaps manager throws another curve by benching DP duo

Martin Rennie certainly hasn’t always followed the conventional path this season, and it doesn’t appear he plans to do so even when he leads his Vancouver Whitecaps squad into the MLS playoffs.

Conventional wisdom would tell you that the Whitecaps should be leaning heavily on their Designated Players ahead of the most important game in the club's MLS history. But as Thursday’s Knockout Round against the LA Galaxy looms (10:30 pm ET, NBCSN/TSN), Rennie and the Whitecaps are in the headlines for benching midfielder Barry Robson and forward Kenny Miller.

Neither Scotsman started against Real Salt Lake, and all indications are Rennie will field a similar lineup come Thursday, though that may be intended to throw off the Galaxy as Rennie was quick to praise Robson's substitute appearance on Monday.

“You analyze the performance [on Saturday], you don’t just look at the result,” Rennie said. “You say, these things were good, this could have been better, what attributes does he bring that maybe we didn’t have? And also, I think he did very well when he came on and looked good on the ball. I think we’ve got a couple of decisions there to make.”

And while both DPs were diplomatic addressing the issue, it’s no surprise both would also prefer to be on the field at the Home Depot Center against LA. "[Coming off the bench is] a very different role – obviously one I'm not too happy with and not too used to," Miller said Monday. "Obviously, I want to play. That's what my mind is going to be focused on until told otherwise. I'll go out and work hard."

In truth, hard work may not be enough for the 'Caps. History is definitely not on their side.

Vancouver will almost certainly have a famous native son and team owner in the stands in LA, as Steve Nash said he'll do his best to make it to the HDC despite his obligations with the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers. Like the Lakers, though, the real title contenders in the Western Conference Knockout Round appear to hail from LA.

One bit of good news for LA: They were able to avoid the attendance cap that often curtails crowds for midweek games. They also appear to have a line on signing a talented Kiwi youngster.

On the other side of the MLS Cup Playoffs bracket, the Chicago Fire are hoping to put their recent slide in the past. They'll have to to knock off a tough (and rested) Houston Dynamo side on Wednesday night (9 pm ET, NBCSN/TSN2/RDS2).

Houston have been in this position before and seem to be relishing the opportunity to spoil the Fire's season on the road. Meanwhile, Chicago will be focused on stopping former Fire forward Calen Carr.

The duo responsible for that task — Arne Friedrich and Rookie of the Year favorite Austin Berry — were tested recently to see which knew his defensive partner better. See who finished on top.

Once the Knockout Round is complete, the MLS Playoffs will shift to home-and-away series. Find out which game managers would prefer to host. But then again, do the numbers back up their sentiments?

San Jose won't be in action until the weekend, when they meet the winner of LA-Vancouver, but one columnist took the time to measure the Quakes against the other Supporters' Shield winners in the league's history. They weren't the most impressive, but they did earn one distinction.

North a few hundred miles in Seattle, the Sounders are still in the dark about Eddie Johnson's injury, but Mauro Rosales and Michael Gspurning are busy preparing for their first MLS postseason. "That's the fun thing about American sports: The season will always be remembered by the fans and from everyone by how we do in the playoffs," Gspurning said. "The regular season is over now and now starts the real season."

Hurricane Sandy couldn't prevent one columnist from recounting all the past clashes between D.C. United and the various incarnations of MLS' New York-based franchise. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, the results have mostly gone D.C.'s way in the past.

In semi-related news, D.C. might have some competition for Virginia fans from the NASL.

Outside the playoff field, it's decision time. That's definitely the case in Montreal, where the Impact are taking a hard look at who will stay and who will go.

The same thing is going on in Toronto, where there is still somehow some optimism left over after an historically dreadful season.

Portland are in a similar boat when it comes to on-field results, but they're still leaders on the business side. The team is reporting 95 percent season ticket renewal for 2013.

Finally, check out this wide-ranging interview by Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald with NBC Sports president Jon Miller regarding the network's successful bid for English Premier League television rights.

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