San Jose Stalemate: Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes combine for cagey 1-1 draw in big game for both teams MLS playoff hopes

The Vancouver Whitecaps took on the San Jose Earthquakes in a key Western Conference battle on the journey towards the MLS playoffs on Saturday night. Here’s our match report from this game, which ended up being a cagey 1-1 draw, one that both teams will certainly feel they could’ve turned into a win for their respective sides on Saturday. 

It wasn’t the result that they desired, but they’ll most certainly take it. 

In the push for the playoffs, every point can count, and the Vancouver Whitecaps are banking on that adage right now, especially after they did well to grind out a tough 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night. 

As the push towards the MLS playoffs continues, it was a massive game for both sides, as the ‘Quakes would’ve been all but eliminated from the playoff race with a loss, while a ‘Caps victory could’ve put them as high as 5th in the Western Conference with 3 games to go, which is well above the 7th-placed line that they’re aiming to be above in order to return to the postseason for the first time since 2017. 

So while a draw doesn’t really help either team, it’s far from bad news for the ‘Caps, in particular, especially after they saw some favourable results go in their favour in the out-of-town scoreboard on Saturday night, as they were able to head to bed in the 7th and final playoff spot in the West with this draw. 

“I’m glad (with the draw)”, Whitecaps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said after the game. “You could see from the first half that we were a little tired today, unable to be aggressive and (apply) pressure like we normally do, they (San Jose) were playing this like a last chance game, putting all of their arrows on the field, and we had to suffer.”

And heading into their next game, a critical clash at BC Place against the 6th-placed team, Minnesota United on Wednesday, this results sets up all sorts of drama for that one, as Minnesota sit just 1 point ahead of the ‘Caps as of writing, which should help make that quite the game.

But returning to the San Jose game, though, while it wasn’t the ‘Caps best game they played this season, they did well to battle for the draw, allowing them to pick up a point for the 19th time in their last 22 MLS games, as they just continue to find a way to get results right now. 

Despite dealing with all sorts of travel and congested schedules, they keep finding a way to make things happen right now, and this game was the latest example of that. 

“At the end I’m happy, it’s a good point,” Sartini said. “It’s a point on the road, and in our 3rd game in 7 days, 7th point in 3 games, in this kind of ‘hell week’ that we were supposed to have.”

To begin the match, however, San Jose would get the first good look of the game in the 3rd minute, as Jeremy Ebobisse found a bit of space in the ‘Caps box after a nice cutback, and he got a decent shot off, but the ‘Caps Maxime Crepeau stood strong to the effort, kicking out the attempt for a corner. 

It might not have been a wildly acrobatic save, but it was a massive one for the ‘Caps, who managed to keep their heads above water with the stop, one that you could only wonder would come back to help the ‘Caps later on in the half. 

But while the ‘Caps looked to slowly figure out how they were going to break down the ‘Quakes defence in order to make that happen, San Jose continued to push for their opener, and they had a good look in the 17th minute, as Javier ‘Chofis’ Lopez found a bit of space to shoot, and he got a good shot off, just ripping it over the goal off his left foot. 

Soon after, the ‘Caps would then finally get their first good look of the game in the 27th minute, as Deiber Caicedo did well to win a free kick in a dangerous area, but he’d be unable to make much of the opportunity, sending his shot well over the goal on the dead ball. 

As soon as the ‘Caps would get that opportunity, though, the ‘Quakes would find something going the other way, as Paul Marie found some space in the box in the 33rd minute, and he’d unleash a hard and low shot, but Crepeau would do well to get down to the effort. 

But other than that, though, that’d be all that the first half would have to offer for both teams, as neither would be able to get much of a foothold on the game, leaving them to head to the locker room to try and figure out how to change that in the second stanza. 

It wasn’t a bad game for the ‘Caps, who would be happy with a point, but knowing what a win could do for them, they needed to find a way to get a breakthrough, allowing them to pick up a massive victory. 

Unfortunately for them, though, they wouldn’t be able to put that plan in motion right away in the second half, as San Jose’s Benji Kikanovic first came close off of a speculative backheel attempt in the 46th minute, before sending a decent attempt just wide off of a header in the 51st minute, putting the ‘Caps on notice. 

And then, the ‘Caps would then get a chance to put their plan in motion, as they’d manage to find their opener right in the 52nd minute, breaking open the game in the process. 

After a decent long strike from Brian White, San Jose’s goalkeeper, JT Marcinkowski, would be unable to control the shot, palming out a juicy rebound, one that the ‘Caps Bruno Gaspar would be first to, and from there, he’d make no mistake in burying the chance from in close on his left foot to put his team ahead.

It wasn’t the prettiest goal that the ‘Caps have scored in 2021, but it was certainly one of their most important ones, putting them on track for a massive result, provided they could hang onto their lead. 

But unfortunately for the ‘Caps, it wouldn’t last long, though, as San Jose then found their equalizer nearly right away in the 59th minute, putting things back to the way they were. 

Having done well to find a bit of space down the right side, something he’d been doing all night, San Jose’s Cristian Espinoza then managed to look up and whip in a fantastic ball into the back post, where he’d find a wide-open Kikanovic, and 3rd time was the charm for the ‘Quakes man, who slammed home a volley to score his team’s opener.

It wasn’t necessarily a backbreaker for the ‘Caps, as they knew that the draw wouldn’t be a bad result, but it was most certainly frustrating to see their lead evaporate so quickly, as it left them to have to open the game right back up again as they looked to regain what they believed was rightfully theirs. 

On the other side, though, the ‘Quakes also believed that they had more to get out of this game, though, and they looked to prove that in the 65th minute, where Paul Marie had a good look from distance, but he’d send his long shot well over the goal. 

Then, continuing the end-to-game action that had started to materialize in the second half, Cristian Dajome did well to find a bit of space at the other end for the ‘Caps, and he’d unleash a dangerous strike from just outside of the box, only finding himself denied by the strong palms of Marcinkowski. 

At the other end, the pace would stay ramped up into the 75th minute, as Kikanovic found himself with yet another good look at goal off of a header, and he’d make nice contact on his attempt, only narrowly missing wide of the net. 

Not long after, as the push for a winner continued, Jeremy Ebobisse then had a nice look of his own off of a header in the 83rd minute, but much like Kikanovic, he too sent his effort just wide, much to the relief of the ‘Caps. 

And seeing that they really had a chance to win the game, San Jose continued to push into the 91st minute, as Carlos Fierro then did well to send a header towards goal from in close, and his attempt would sail towards a wide-open Chris Wondolowski in the box, but despite having an open goal, Crepeau would somehow get himself in the way of the attempt, keeping the game tied. 

But other than that, though, that’d be all that this game would have to offer up, leaving both teams to share the spoils, which for the ‘Caps, wasn’t a bad thing, but for the ‘Quakes, certainly hurt, as it all but ended their playoff hopes, if not put them on life support. 

Looking back, however, neither team really did enough to actually break open the game once it got tied up again, making this a fair scoreline for both sides. 

For the ‘Caps, that’s far from a bad thing, as there are never any bad away results in MLS, so seeing that the results around them were actually in their favour, they’ll take it, and turn their attention towards their next match. 

No doubt, winning this game would’ve been massive, but seeing that they were at the backend of a tough week, one where they played 3 games in 7 days, all while enduring some pretty tough travel, it’s not the end of the world, especially considering that they are still going to bed in a playoff spot. 

“We’re right in it,” Crepeau said after the game. “The 7 points that we got in the last 3 games is helping us build momentum and believe that we can get results pretty much anywhere.”

Player of the Match: Bruno Gaspar

Elsewhere, there were a lot of solid performances in this game, but Gaspar’s stood out near the top of the lot, as the ‘Caps full back put in quite the shift on Saturday. 

Normally a right back, he stepped into a left wing back role after 20 minutes, as he and the other wing back, Dajome, switched sides, and he looked just as comfortable on the left as he did on the right, getting forward with ease, while also getting the job done defensively. 

So to then see him get rewarded with a goal was only a bonus, as it was a fair reward for a good game for Gaspar, who has really grown into his own under Sartini, becoming a key part of the ‘Caps backline as of late. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Florian Jungwirth

But while Gaspar certainly had himself a game, Jungwirth arguably stole the show with his performance on Saturday, living up to his nomination as our player to watch in this game. 

Playing against his former team for the first time in San Jose, making his first appearance back at his old stadium after a midseason trade, he looked amped for the occasion right from the opening whistle, and he backed that up with a solid performance, finding a way to make some massive defensive interventions for the ‘Caps. 

Along with some fiery moments, including some verbal and physical jousts with his former teammates, he was everywhere for the ‘Caps at the back, putting up a performance that will be remembered by Vancouver fans, many of whom now want the popular German to return to the team next season after what he’s so far shown for his new team. 

Heatmap of the Match: 

Moving on, it was a mixed showing in the heatmap department, however, as the ‘Caps struggled a fair bit here, which after a few strong performances in this section, was surprising to see. 

From their inability to break into San Jose’s box, to how easily the ‘Quakes were able to break into theirs at the other end, it wasn’t the ‘Caps best game offensively nor defensively, which only sells how important this draw is. 

xG Plot of the Match:

At the same time, though, the heatmap doesn’t look all too bad when you look at the Expected Goals (xG) plot, because while the ‘Caps struggled at keeping San Jose out of tough areas, they still only limited them to 1.2 xG, which is pretty good. 

So while the xG they generated themselves is less than ideal, as 0.8 won’t be enough to get a goal on most nights, that they defended as they did despite how hard San Jose pushed is ideal, further highlighting why this is a decent result for the ‘Caps. 

Looking Forward:

But now, the ‘Caps must turn their attention to what lies ahead now, as it’s imperative that they find a way to come out and win this upcoming Minnesota game. 

Obviously, with just 3 games remaining on their schedule, all of those will be ‘must-wins’, but a win against Minnesota could ramp down the pressure slightly, which would be something that the ‘Caps certainly wouldn’t mind right now.

Their goal is to win all 3 of those games, no doubt, but to do that, you first need to win game #1, and that comes against Minnesota on Wednesday. 

With the game being at BC Place, where the ‘Caps have won 6 of their last 7 games, they’re looking to keep it a fortress once again on Wednesday, allowing them to sing their win song, ‘Stand by Me’, at the end of the 90 minutes against Minnesota. 

So as they prepare for their first game back under unlimited capacity (after health rules opened up this past week), the ‘Caps are hoping for an electric atmosphere, one that helps them push towards a potentially massive result on their quest to make the playoffs. 

“We need that,” Sartini said of the fans. “It’s a team effort, and the effort includes the fans, they’re a huge part of BC Place has become a fortress, so I know it’s going to be (that again) on Wednesday night, they’ve been fantastic.”

“If they can come with an even higher number, and I know they’re going to come, it’s called the playoff push (for a reason), and we need someone to help us push, and that’s the fans that will help us with that.”

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs San Jose Earthquakes, Wednesday, October 27th, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)

Cover Photo via: Vancouver Whitecaps/Twitter

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