Whitecaps relish underdog role

Landon Donovan of the L.A. Galaxy (L) kicks the ball against Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe...

Landon Donovan of the L.A. Galaxy (L) kicks the ball against Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Cannon (R) during the second half of their MLS soccer match in Vancouver, British Columbia July 18, 2012. (REUTERS)

HOSEA CHEUNG, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:01 PM ET

VANCOUVER - Underdog this, underdog that.

Understandably, it's the role the Vancouver Whitecaps will embrace when they step onto the pitch Thursday at the Home Depot Center for their first ever playoff match. After all, that's pretty much all the second-year club has talked about during the last week and a half.

Heading into the one-game knockout against the Los Angeles Galaxy in Carson, Calif., the Whitecaps know where they stand. They slipped in through the back door to take the final post-season spot in the Western Conference and now face the reigning MLS champions, comprised of a star-studded roster.

"We don't have anything to expect if you follow what the people are saying," Whitecaps defender Alain Rochat said. "Anything can happen and we are ready to be in this position going there. We're going to play this game as hard as we can and try to create the big surprise."

An upset will only add to an already relatively successful season for the Whitecaps.

After a poor inaugural campaign last year, finishing 6-18-10, the Caps revamped their roster, brought in new head coach Martin Rennie and started their sophomore season with a refreshed attitude. Their 7-3-5 start to the year -- including four straight clean sheets -- was promising, but after several mid-season player changes, the club struggled.

In 15 games from July to September, they managed just three wins. And although they finished the season by allowing one goal in four games, they failed to get into the playoffs on their own terms.

Instead, after a disappointing 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers at home on Oct. 21, they had to rely on the Seattle Sounders win over FC Dallas later that night to secure their spot in the playoffs.

Despite how they got there, the Whitecaps are in -- the first Canadian team to make it. With that long-shot role comes less pressure, or at least not as much as is on the Galaxy.

"For us, it's about one game and for other teams, they haven't achieved their goal yet," Rennie said. "They have to manage a playoff run and win a championship to achieve their goal and that's a lot more work and a lot more pressure than what we feel right now."

L.A. will certainly have much more to prove, looking to defend the MLS Cup. After finding themselves at the bottom of the standings at the end of May, the club required a second-half resurgence to get to where they are now.

With 34 points in their final 17 regular season games, the Galaxy will rely on their top four scorers; Robbie Keane (16 goals), Landon Donovan (nine), David Beckham (seven), Juninho (seven); and a host of other difference-makers. The Whitecaps counter with team-leading scorer Darren Mattocks (seven goals), brash Scottish midfielder Barry Robson, and a trio of veteran defenders -- captain Jay DeMerit, Englishman Andy O'Brien, and former Korean international Y.P. Lee.

"They're going to come here with a lot of confidence, but it's our home ground so we have to be confident going into the game," Beckham told FOX News this week. "But we know Vancouver are a dangerous team, they've got dangerous players, and they're capable of getting a result wherever they play so we have to be on top of our game."

The winner Thursday will play the top-ranked San Jose Earthquake in the conference semifinal.

Whitecaps goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who will get the start in the franchise's MLS playoff debut, doesn't want to make the game any bigger than it already is.

"Everyone talks about it being the first game and nerves and that," Knighton said. "You're not trying to make a huge picture and a huge blowout of how prolific this game can be for a whole organization or a whole city playing against the champions. You can look at that and go crazy. It's just about doing the little things right."

It's a mindset fit for the underdogs.

"Everyone is pretty much talking about the L.A.-San Jose game. That's writing us off," he added. "We're pretty much just going to take that role on and ride it as far as we can."


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