SPORTS

Whitecaps look for first win and goal at Galaxy's home in do-or-die game

10/31/2012 09:41 EDT | Updated 12/31/2012 05:12 EST
CARSON, Calif. - The road to the site of the Vancouver Whitecaps' playoff debut is lined with palm trees.

There is no barbed wire, nothing is crumbling, the modern washrooms do not threaten to churn one's innards and no extended national holiday has been declared.

The Home Depot Center in suburban Los Angeles, where the Whitecaps will become the first Canadian team to compete in Major League Soccer's post-season on Thursday, is much friendlier than the scene of an infamous Canadian national men's team loss in Honduras.

"It's not really an intimidating atmosphere, but it's pretty nice," Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie said of the surroundings Wednesday. "It's a nice field, nice stadium. I think it'll probably be a smaller crowd because of it being a mid-week game."

Canada's men's team suffered a humiliating 8-1 loss to Honduras in a critical World Cup qualifying game on Oct. 16 at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula.

While Home Depot Center is less threatening, the Whitecaps' task might be just as daunting.

The underdogs from Vancouver, who must defeat the Galaxy in a do-or-die game to advance to the second round of the post-season, are seeking their first road win and first away goal against L.A. since entering MLS last year.

"It's always a tough place to play," Vancouver midfielder Dane Richards said. "They always have a tough fan base who's cheering for them, a lot of people. Now, it's the playoffs, tough game.

"If you lose you're out. If you win, you're in."

Vancouver goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who is slated to make his first career playoff start, said the atmosphere is always electric when the Whitecaps visit the Galaxy.

"Especially with the players that they've got there, the fan support they've got behind them, being the defending champs, so obviously it's going to be a raucous crowd," said Knighton. "We know we've got a ton of fans going down for the game, and we're looking forward to that in our (supporters') section. It's going to be a great atmosphere for a great game."

The Whitecaps have not won on the road since beating the Colorado Rapids in July. L.A. posted three shutout wins over Vancouver, along with a comeback draw, in the regular season, while outscoring the Whitecaps 10-2.

But Knighton said all of the pressure is on the star-studded Galaxy, whose veteran-laden side includes iconic English midfielder David Beckham and American striker Landon Donovan.

"Everybody's already written us off," said Knighton. "Why not make everybody wrong ... and show some people that we deserve to be here?"

A Whitecaps goal would also be surprising. Vancouver has not scored on the road since losing 2-1 to the Portland Timbers on Aug. 25 — a span of seven games. They have scored just 10 times away from B.C. Place Stadium all season.

But Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit noted his team does have a saving grace when it comes to playing at the Home Depot Center. After going winless on the road all of last season, they recorded their first-ever away win here in March — albeit against lowly Chivas USA, which shares the stadium with the Galaxy.

"For us, you're the underdog and you go in there and just fight," DeMerit said. "You've gotta make sure that everyone as a unit, as an 11, is all on the same page. First and foremost, the tactics are right and, secondly, you have to believe that anything can happen — because at the end of the day, it's 11 men versus 11 men."

The Whitecaps sent out a funny tweet on Wednesday, posting a picture of a dead patch of grass, filled in by sand, in front of a goal crease on the practice field.

"So the Galaxy trained at Home Depot Center this morning. Aaand this is where they set us up. Thanks," read the Tweet from the club's Twitter site.

But DeMerit did not get with the poor-is-us program.

"Well, it's better than (artificial) turf, so we're pretty happy to be out here on the grass any time," he said.

He also praised the quality of the Home Depot Center's grass pitch, which was being cut as close as a golf course fairway as the Whitecaps worked out.

"It's always a good climate," said DeMerit. "Playing in this type of (warm, sunny) weather, it's great. Conditions aren't really a factor either. So it's just about going and doing what we've set off to do — and making sure that we do everything right and, most importantly, as a team."

DeMerit said the Whitecaps will have to try and disrupt the usual "heated" atmosphere and quiet the crowd. He called the game the most important in the franchise's MLS history.

"When you're a new team and you're an expansion franchise, you always have a series of firsts," said DeMerit. "This is an important one, because when you have a franchise idea, it's about winning championships, and the only way you win championships is by having success in the playoffs.

"For us to get to a playoff in our second year is definitely a marker to go on for the next years, but there's no reason why we can't try and do these things now."

However, history is not on Vancouver's side when it comes to big games. The Whitecaps lost a critical game to Toronto FC the Amway Canadian Championship and also dropped their final home game of the regular season 1-0 to lowly Portland. As a result, the Whitecaps had to rely on Seattle beating FC Dallas in order to lock down the fifth and final post-season berth in the Western Conference.

Accordingly, the underdog label, which Vancouver coach Martin Rennie continued to play up Wednesday, does fit. However, DeMerit wants the players to put pressure on themselves in order to perform at their best.

"For a lot of people, they're not putting much pressure on us," he said. "But, from ourselves, we need to put pressure on ourselves to go and try to get results, because the only way that these things happen is if we have the belief to do it ourselves."

Meanwhile, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena indicated his club does not mind bearing the favourite label.

"We've been in playoffs before, and we understand the challenges that are associated with this," said Arena on a conference call with reporters this week. "We've gained enough experiences to, hopefully, prepare ourselves like we have over the past four years."

Notes: Rennie hopes the fact the Whitecaps are completely healthy for one of the few times this season will benefit them. ... Beckham and Donovan have been nursing nagging injuries but are expected to play.

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