After finishing their final three matches of the regular season with two losses and one draw, the Vancouver Whitecaps were forced to play a single-elimination match Wednesday evening at BC Place. While it being a home match was a positive, they were facing the same San Jose Earthquakes team, who prevented the Caps from locking up first in the West just a week earlier.
There was nervous optimism ahead of the match as the Whitecaps were heavy favourites and were expected to handle the Earthquakes, with a -26 goal differential on the road this season, quite handily. Not leaving his lineup decision up to criticism from fans, Carl Robinson fielded his Best XI. It could be argued that Christian Bolanos recent form takes him out of the Best XI, but for the Caps to be successful in playoffs I believe he will need to show why he was CONCACAF Player of the Year for 2016.
BC Place was buzzing to begin the match, as the fans created a fantastic atmosphere. The Caps got off to a strong start, but were still helped out by their keeper early. Learning from the mistake at Portland over the weekend, Stefan Marinovic made a strong save off Anibal Godoy’s free kick five minutes into the match.
At times, the Caps were lucky not to be picked apart, as they continually gave up opportunities. In the eight minute, Tony Tchani was sloppy in his passing and the Quakes were able to counter. Of course. The biggest problem was that San Jose were affording Vancouver possession. By the 20th minute, the Caps had 45%. WAY TOO MUCH!
The Whitecaps were able to take the early lead in the 33rd minute, thanks to their deadly efficiency on set-pieces. The fantastic corner kick delivery from Cristian Techera was flicked on by Kendall Waston, to the back post where Fredy Montero is always waiting. Montero drove the ball into the net, breaking his scoreless playoff record. It was also the first home playoff goal in the Whitecaps MLS history.
It was an entertaining first half, and a 1-0 lead, almost made less so with what appeared to be a late injury to Techera’s knee.
Luckily, Techera remained in the match, and made his presence felt in the 58th minute with a pinpoint free kick into the top corner. There was no chance for the Quakes keeper Turnball and we saw once again why Techera is so deadly from set-pieces and why the Caps don’t lose when Techera scores or assists on a goal.
After a flurry in front of the net, in the 64th minute, the Towering Tico was able to get the last touch and secure a trip to Seattle for the Whitecaps. Not as big as securing Costa Rica’s place in the World Cup, but I am sure still thrilling. While not directly off a set-piece, it is worth noting that Waston’s goal was a second phase goal, after another corner kick.
Substitute Nicolas Mezquida sealed it for the Whitecaps with two late goals in quick succession in the 78th and 80th minute.
The Vancouver Whitecaps put in a dominant 5-0 performance Wednesday night against an albeit poor road squad; however, they showed why they belong in the conversation for West representative in the MLS Cup. The Caps will now host the Clint Dempsey-less Seattle Sounders on Sunday afternoon in a Cascadia matchup that I think we are all looking forward to seeing.