Don't call them the favorites. The LA Galaxy spent most of the media scrum prior to the playoff clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps calmly explaining that no one who turns up daily for work at the Home Depot Center thinks in those terms.
"There are no underdogs in a one-off game, in my eyes," David Beckham said.
Thursday's knockout match will decide which side advances to face the San Jose Earthquakes. The Galaxy, as reigning champions, are firm favorites.
"You can call us whatever you'd like," coach Bruce Arena said. "We've been called every name this year, so whatever one you want to choose for this game is fine."
The former U.S. national team boss is already in ripe playoff form with a series of acerbic aphorisms to flex his cantankerous wit. He went on to bristle against favorite tags in general.
"I don't know how you define any of that stuff," Arena said. "In soccer it's a little different than other sports. Since it's low scoring, this is the sport there's most upsets in, probably. Favorite labels or underdog labels don't mean a whole lot in this sport."
Moreover, Arena asserted, outside perception wouldn't affect his squad's motivation.
"We have no problem having our team ready to play this game," Arena said. "They're ready to play."
Besides, regular season placement counts for little in the postseason. Even form – Vancouver has only won once in the last 10 games – goes out the window.
"I've been a part of two teams that have backed their way into the playoffs and ended up winning the championship," Landon Donovan said, referencing the 2001 San Jose Earthquakes and the 2005 Galaxy.
The Whitecaps have scored seven goals in the last 10 games, four of which came in a win over Chivas USA. So Los Angeles' preparation has largely focused on breaking down a tough Vancouver defense. Whitecaps coach Matin Rennie has kept his back six – Alain Rochat and Gershon Koffie sitting in front of a settled backline – steady while mixing a handful of attacking options.
"We've stressed patience this week," Landon Donovan said. "We have to assume the way they've spoken and the way they played last week in Salt Lake is indicative of how they're going to come here and play. If that's the case, two things need to happen: We need to be very patient and we need to be very alert and aware when the ball turns over and they counter."
Against Real Salt Lake, in the last match of the regular season, Vancouver drew 0-0. The 'Caps put one shot on target and held 37 percent of possession.
The home side will likely bear the possession and the onus to dictate the match come Thursday.
"That’s nothing new," Arena quipped. "We've probably seen about 30 games like that this year."
A sputtering start aside, the Galaxy have been doing it all season. They did it last season, too, to win the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup. There's no secrets left about MLS's most high-profile franchise.
"For us it's simple: We need to play well and we need to do the things we're good at," Donovan said. "When we do that, more often than not we're successful. 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 very vulnerable and we're very beatable. Doesn't matter who you're playing against."
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