The Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to take on the San Jose Earthquakes in a massive match for MLS playoff implications in San Jose on Saturday. Here is our preview ahead of that one.
The grind just won’t stop right now for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
In the midst of a pretty good week for the MLS club, having already picked up back-to-back must-win games against Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers on Sunday and Wednesday, respectively, their journey towards the playoffs continues this Saturday, when they’ll take on the San Jose Earthquakes in California for another big match.
With just 4 games remaining in the ‘Caps season, this game will be a massive one in the context of MLS’s Western Conference, as just 10 points separate 4th place and 10th place as of writing, which should make for quite the exciting finish to this 2021 campaign.
Seeing that the ‘Quakes currently find themselves in that 10th spot, sitting 7 points behind the 7th placed ‘Caps, this game will arguably be their last chance to make the playoffs, as a loss could eliminate them depending on other results on the weekend, while a draw would leave their hopes on life support heading into their last 3 games.
If they win, though, they’ll be thrown right back into the thick of the race, opening up an already wide-open race to finish in the top 7 spots, only adding suspense to what has been an already dramatic race towards the playoffs.
And there might be no better example of that drama than the ‘Caps, who have been on quite the run as of late, narrowly climbing over the playoff line with their win over the Timbers in Portland, a game in which they came back in from down 2-0 to win 3-2.
Thanks to that, they were able to continue a run of games that has seen them pick up points in 18 of their last 21 matches, 9 of those games being wins. After a nightmare start to the year, one where they only won twice in their first 9 games, it’s been a pretty stark turnaround, one that has allowed them to be where they are today.
So now, their goal remains to stay there come the end of the season, as the last thing that they’d want to do at this stage of proceedings would be to throw away all the hard work that they’ve done to even be in this position in the first place, and they know that a win on Saturday would help them avoid that.
They’ll be short-handed in their quest to try and make that happen, as the ‘Caps will be without Caio Alexandre, Tosaint Ricketts, Andy Rose, Erik Godoy (injury) and Pedro Vite (quarantine) against the ‘Quakes, but at the same time, that’s been something they’ve dealt with all season long, so this is nothing new for them.
Because of that, they’re confident in their ability to go and snatch something out of San Jose, a city they’ve struggled with in recent years, because while they’ll be in tough in their attempt to do so, so far under interim head coach Vanni Sartini’s lead, that sort of thing just hasn’t slowed them down as of late, and that’s not expected to change on Saturday.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Leonard Owusu
And a player that will be central in Sartini’s efforts to pick up his 7th win in 11 games as ‘Caps coach will be Owusu, who comes into this game as one of Vancouver’s most in-form players as of late, and is rested after starting on the bench against Portland.
He still had a pretty big impact in that game despite it being a rest night, coming off the bench to help facilitate the ‘Caps comeback, but now he’ll be expected to bring that sort of impact in a starting role on Saturday, giving the ‘Caps a little more bite in midfield right from the very beginning.
After a rough start to the campaign under Sartini’s predecessor, Marc Dos Santos, Owusu has looked like a whole new player these past few months, finally becoming the sort of two-way force that people always expected him to become when he first came to MLS, and that’s played a big role in the ‘Caps recent success.
Otherwise, here are some storylines that we’re keeping an eye on ahead of this game.
Keeping the ‘Quakes quiet:
First, it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on the ‘Quakes offence in this game, because despite having one of the hottest attacks in the league as of late, led by the deadly Javier ‘Chofis’ Lopez, they’ve struggled to translate that into games against the ‘Caps, finding themselves shut out by Vancouver in their last 2 meetings.
Considering that the ‘Quakes scored 3 or more goals in 4 of the 5 previous meetings between the two teams before this season, it’s been quite the surprise to see the ‘Caps all of a sudden figure out how to slow down their dangerous Californian counterparts.
Because of that, it’ll be interesting to see if the ‘Caps keep up that defensive form in this one, allowing them to pick up a key away result, or if the ‘Quakes can find their old high-scoring ways once again, paving the way for a big home victory.
A White-hot run:
Elsewhere, keep an eye on the ‘Caps offence in this game, because they’ve got one of the hottest attackers in MLS at the moment, and that’s Brian White, who is currently the ‘Caps leading scorer with 11 goals in MLS play.
And more impressively, 8 of those goals have come in his last 10 games, which coincidentally, is the timeframe over which Sartini has been in charge. Plus, if you go back a little further, he’s got 10 goals in his last 12 games in MLS play, which is about as good as a run of games that any striker could have, and that’s played a big role in the ‘Caps playoff push.
Most importantly for the ‘Caps, though, he’s been contributing to the team in so many ways other than the goals, picking up 3 assists for the year, while also pitching in with some excellent defensive play, too.
Thanks to all of that, it’s made the ‘Caps all-but-forget about the absence of their DP striker, Lucas Cavallini, but that’s just a testament to how good White has been as of late, as he keeps finding a way to put up DP-level performances at a fraction of the price.
Return of the Flo (for real this time):
Lastly, keep an eye on ‘Caps defender, Florian Jungwirth, who will be returning to his old home in this game, having been acquired from the ‘Quakes by the ‘Caps via trade earlier this year.
Since then, he’s become one of the ‘Caps most important defenders, stepping up huge with the continued absence of several of his team’s most important centre backs, finding a way to put in a shift no matter who slots in alongside him.
So expect him to come up big for his new team in this game, as he marks his return to his old club. Interestingly enough, this isn’t actually his first return, as the ‘Caps came to San Jose shortly after Jungwirth’s arrival in August, but he didn’t play in that game, making this more of an ‘official’ return.
Record: 11W-9L-10D (43 PTS)
Head Coach: Vanni Sartini
San Jose Earthquakes:
Record: 9W-12L-9D (36 PTS)
Head Coach: Matias Almeyda
San Jose Earthquakes 0-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0 San Jose Earthquakes
So seeing all of that, this promises to be quite the interesting matchup, for a multitude of reasons.
From what’s at stake in the playoff race, to some of the individual storylines, with the overall history of these two teams intertwined in there, these two teams rarely combine for boring games, and will look to entertain once again on Saturday.
With so much at stake, this is basically life-or-death when it comes to their respective campaigns, making it a must-watch match in the race to the playoffs.
For the ‘Caps, that’s exciting, because while their goal was to be in these kinds of games at this stage of the season, seeing how much work it took to actually get them here, they’ll want to make the most of this opportunity, putting up a performance that reflects that.
As the race for the playoffs continues, this is a key battle, one that could very well help determine who sits in one of the 7 spots in just a few weeks’ time, making it so key in the overall context of the season.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs San Jose Earthquakes, Saturday, October 23rd, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Ayava Stadium, San Jose)