Emotional rollercoaster: Whitecaps go down fighting in LA playoff defeat
Vancouver Whitecaps headed into their first MLS playoffs this evening as massive underdogs with everyone from the media to the bookmakers.
There was a reason for that, but at least they made a lot of people sweat a little along the way before going down 2-1 to the defending champions Los Angeles Galaxy tonight in a battling performance.
The Caps were expected to go in to Los Angeles and try and bunker against the Galaxy, trying to grind out a result and looking to hit on the break. No-one expected Vancouver to grab the early lead, but that's just what they did and they held on resolutely under wave after wave of LA attacks.
In the end they fell just short of a famous victory, in what was an emotional rollercoaster for Caps fans.
All we asked for was a performance we could be proud of. For the players to stand up and be counted. We may not have got the victory, but the players did themselves, the club and the fans proud and showed that they deserved that playoff spot they had earned.
Martin Rennie made one change from the line-up which drew the last regular game of the season in Salt Lake at the weekend, with Barry Robson coming in for Dane Richards, as the Whitecaps went to a five man midfield.
There wasn't even a minute on the clock before LA had their first chance of the match, with Mike Magee flashing a header past the left hand post.
Vancouver though were determined to not be overawed and they took a shock lead just three minutes in.
Matt Watson collected the ball on the left and showed some neat footwork to easily get past Hector Jimenez and run into the box. He cut the ball back to an open Darren Mattocks and the rookie showed composure to deftly direct his shot into the bottom right hand corner of the net and stun the Home Depot Center.
With many predicting an early Los Angeles goal, both teams now needed to reassess how they would see out the remaining 86 minutes of the game.
Brad Knighton was called to make his first save of the match in the sixth minute when Juninho unleashed a fierce long range strike which the Caps keeper parried away.
LA now couldn't afford to be gung-ho and were more deliberate in their build up play as they tried to find a way through a packed Vancouver backline. Whenever they got the ball in, or near, the box though, they were soon closed down by at least one Whitecap.
The Galaxy were looking dangerous, but not threatening as much as many expected.
Robbie Keane brought a low stop out of Knighton in the 28th minute after collecting the ball on the edge of the box and turning superbly before firing off a shot.
Despite dominating possession, LA just couldn't find a way through a resolute Whitecaps defence and they only had two wide Landon Donovan efforts to show for their efforts.
Vancouver hearts were in their mouths in the last minute of the first half when Donovan went down very easily in the box under the attention of Andy O'Brien.
Referee Petrescu waved away the appeals but seconds later gave the Galaxy a free kick in a very dangerous position on the edge of the box.
Up stepped David Beckham but Knighton fantastically got across his goal to palm the goalbound effort away.
The Whitecaps had held on and went in at the break with a shock 1-0 lead, but they knew they were going to be coming under more and more intense Galaxy pressure.
Vancouver showed their intention to not just sit back and defend in the second half and John Thorrington brought a save out of Josh Saunders three minutes in with a low drive.
Barry Robson unleashed a thunderbolt in the 54th minute which Saunders could only parry away, but the LA defence managed to clear the danger for a throw in before Mattocks could get on the rebound.
The Galaxy turned up the pressure and launched attack after attack to try and get back on level terms, but the Whitecaps held tight.
Edson Buddle came closest to finding the net in the 64th minute, when Knighton held his header on his goal-line.
Three minutes later and Knighton was called into action, getting down way to turn away a low Beckham drive.
Vancouver went up the pitch and nearly added to their lead.
Substitute Kenny Miller played a neat one-two with Watson, and the Englishman did well to make room and shoot. Saunders could only parry the fierce strike and the ball broke to Miller who miss-hit his shot which was then deflected to Robson. His fellow Scot couldn't find a way through the LA defenders who had closed him down to get off a shot and the Galaxy cleared the danger.
The inability to put the game away was immediately punished and the home side levelled in the 69th minute when Magee brilliantly volleyed home a Juninho cross from 12 yards out.
In the build up to the goal, Jay DeMerit had taken a knock and was soon replaced by Martin Bonjour.
The Argentinean was soon in the thick of the action when Donovan again went down easily under his challenge in the 72nd minute. This time the referee pointed to the spot and Donovan got up to bury the spot kick and give LA the lead.
It was heartbreak for the Whitecaps, who were frustrated by the decision and assistant coach Paul Ritchie was soon sent from the dugout for comments to the fourth official.
The Galaxy now started to sit back a little and Vancouver had no option but to try and take the game to the reigning champs.
Thorrington went down in the box with eleven minutes remaining, but it was clearly not a penalty. The difference between his claim and Donovan's was that the LA player sold his far better.
Still a danger going forward, and keen to kill the game off, Beckham fired just wide left in the 81st minute, as Vancouver started to commit more men forward.
LA easily saw out the closing minutes as Vancouver just couldn't muster enough creativity to find a way back into the game.
It was an expected defeat, but a battling performance in which the Whitecaps fought well but simply didn't have the players in the end to compete at LA's level and get the job done.
Vancouver's 2012 season is now over and a number of hard decisions will now come Martin Rennie's way.
Going from worst to fifth, and the playoffs, in one season was a good turnaround. Now he needs to find the necessary means to take the Whitecaps to the next level.
The performance of many players tonight showed that he has some good foundations to build on as he looks to take the team at least one step further next year.
FINAL SCORE: Los Angeles Galaxy 2 - 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
LOS ANGELES GALAXY: Josh Saunders; Todd Dunivant, Omar Gonzalez, Tommy Meyer, Hector Jimenez (Marcelo Sarvas 52); Landon Donovan, Juninho (Michael Stephens 83), David Beckham, Mike Magee; Robbie Keane, Edson Buddle [Subs Not Used: Brian Perk, Jose Villarreal, Bryan Gaul, Andrew Boyens, Jack McBean]
VANCOUVER: Brad Knighton; Young-Pyo Lee, Andy O’Brien, Jay DeMerit (Martin Bonjour 70), Jordan Harvey; Alain Rochat, John Thorrington, Matt Watson (Dane Richards 80), Gershon Koffie, Barry Robson; Darren Mattocks (Kenny Miller 59) [Subs Not Used: Joe Cannon, Jun Marques Davidson, Russell Teibert, Camilo Sanvezzo]