CARSON, Calif. – They won just once in their last 10 games and they still qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs.
They haven’t beaten the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in three tries and haven’t even scored a goal in the process.
In fact, they’re the only team in this year’s postseason with a sub-.500 record.
But take heart, Vancouver Whitecaps fans: Landon Donovan knows your pain.
“I’ve been a part of two teams that have backed their way into the playoffs and ended up winning the championship,” he noted on Wednesday after training, referring to his 2001 San Jose Earthquakes and 2005 Galaxy sides.
And he’s absolutely aware that despite their heavy underdog status against LA on Thursday night (10:30 pm ET, NBCSN, TSN in Canada, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), the ‘Caps have an excellent chance of pulling off a giant upset.
“There’s no question this team has a lot of talent,” the Galaxy captain said. “… We’re looking all over the field and they’ve got a lot of high-profile and very talented players. And if they play the way they did last week vs. Salt Lake, they have every chance of upsetting us, so we’ve got to be aware and cautious.”
Vancouver’s offensive woes have been well documented during their run-in to close the regular season. During those 10 games to finish out 2012, they scored only seven goals – four of them in a 4-0 rout of Chivas USA. Last weekend at Rio Tinto Stadium, they buttoned up and showed why they were the fourth-best defensive team in MLS this season in terms of goals allowed.
That may be the approach when they take the pitch at the Home Depot Center on Thursday and look to stun the defending MLS Cup champions in the one-off Knockout Round.
“If that’s the case, two things need to happen,” Donovan explained. “We need to be very patient and we need to be very alert and aware when the ball turns over and they counter. They have two very dynamic attacking players in Dane [Richards] and Darren Mattocks that can really make you pay if you’re not alert, so we have to be on our toes in that way.
“And if a goal doesn’t come early and we’re putting pressure on, we’ve just got to be patient and keep going.”
And should the Whitecaps come out firing, Donovan is wary of the possibility of facing a five-headed monster of attacking talent that includes Richards, Mattocks, Kenny Miller, Camilo and especially Barry Robson (who he calls “one of the best players in this league”).
“There’s not many teams that have that kind of explosiveness, dynamic ability and speed,” he said. “So if they are all on the field, it’ll present a challenge for us.”
The last time the Galaxy were caught so unaware on their own turf, it was a 2-1 loss to Toronto FC in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals in March that saw LA bow out of the tournament in stunning fashion. The Galaxy may have been in a different place then, with injury issues and what they’ve repeatedly deemed a lack of mental preparedness.
But, Donovan points out, that experience did prove a telling lesson as another unfancied Canadian team comes to town and forces LA to maintain their focus.
“When we do that, more often than not, we’re successful,” he said. “It doesn’t always go right, but more often than not, we’ve got a chance to win. If we don’t do those things, we’re vulnerable, and we’re very beatable. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against.
“Vancouver is a much better team than Toronto is. And if we’re not ready to play, they could easily beat us.”