It’s been difficult coming up with a new way to describe the 2019 season for the Vancouver Whitecaps (4-10-8), but of all things this week’s release of the Cats theatrical trailer has offered up a perfect analogy: the crafting of something done in genuine earnest resulting in the unintentionally horrifying.
With or without the comparison to anthropomorphic felines, it certainly doesn’t get any easier for the Whitecaps this weekend as the Blue and White return home after a mid-week jaunt across the continent to host a San Jose Earthquakes (9-7-4) side that finally appears to have recovered from its own years at the rock bottom.
Where: BC Place, Vancouver, BC
When: Saturday, July 20th at 7 PM PST
How: TSN1, TSN4 (TV); TSN 1040 (Radio); MLS Live on ESPN+ (Internet)
San Jose came into 2019 with a vibe not unlike that of the Whitecaps. 2018 was a certifiable mess for the Quakes, behind 21 losses, a -22 goal differential, and a PPG of 0.62, and a coach in Mikael Stahre that didn’t survive past September. In fact, Stahre came and went as the third Quakes coach to helm the squad within a fifteen month period. Averaging one coach every five months isn’t the best look.
Describing their 2018 season as a “disappointment” is an incredible understatement, though it’s proving to be the nadir from which the club has recovered remarkably well.
Similar to the Whitecaps, San Jose weathered the aforementioned mid-season firing in 2018. Early rumors suggested Marc Dos Santos was in the mix to replace Stahre, but the Quakes ultimately opted for Matias Almeyda, with Vancouver incidentally inking Dos Santos a month later.
Using those respective hirings as a jumping off point, there’s been a definite divergence in the clubs’ respective trajectories.
The roster Almeyda inherited remains roughly the same today, with Fatai Alashe, Quincy Amarikwa, and Jahmir Hyka being the most notable of departures, against the addition of attacking mid Cristian Espinoza and keeper Daniel Vega. And despite 2019 initially looking it would be more of the same for the Quakes, kicking off with a 1-6-0 start, that relatively unchanged roster appears to have bought into Almeyda’s tactics and style, as the club has gone 8-2-4 in the time since and are on pace to make the playoffs.
Contrast that against the mass roster cull and floundering rebuild we’ve witnessed this season in Vancouver at your own peril.
What Happened Last
Vancouver and San Jose faced off on three separate occasions in 2018, with a mid-May tilt in Vancouver followed by home-and-away matches in August/September.
Match #1 was one of those rare times in 2018 where the Whitecaps outshot their opponent and kept the possession stats relatively close. Cristian Techera made a well-timed run behind the San Jose defenders to open the scoring, while Yordy Reyna floated in a header to equalize in the 64th minute, after the Caps suffered through a suave Danny Hoesen equalizer and a curled Nick Lima lead-taker.
The return match came three and a half months later in San Jose where early goals from Jahmir Hyka off the volley and a PK from Magnus Eriksson forced the Whitecaps to chase the match and, strangely (for the Caps), pull off a come from behind, 3-2 win! Reyna and Techera once against tallied against the Quakes, before Kei Kamara finished the night’s scoring with a 68th minute tap-in.
And finally, the return return match a week later saw another Vancouver victory, though without requiring the Whitecaps to chase a lead. First and second-half goals from Alphonso Davies and Nico Mezquida proved to be enough, but not before a deflected Valeri Qazaishvili goal injected some late, albeit inconsequential, drama into Vancouver’s 2-1 victory.
All-time, the Whitecaps are 8-4-9 against San Jose in regular season MLS play, with 32 goals for and 24 against, though those numbers are all heavily buoyed by Vancouver’s home performances against the Quakes, going 7-1-3 with 21 for and only 12 against.
The Whitecaps have a significantly reduced injury list as of late, with only Jasser Khmiri (knee) and David Norman Jr. (foot surgery). Similarly, the Quakes also boast an incredibly short injured list, as they’ll only be missing midfielder Anibal Godoy (abdomen).
But suspension-wise, San Jose will also be without defender Marcos Lopez through yellow card accumulation.
Worth noting is that both the Quakes and the Caps have defenders on the cusp of a caution suspension, with respective defenders Harold Cummings and Derek Cornelius both a single yellow card away.
Who’s Worth Watching?
Valeri Qazaishvili vs. Jake Nerwinski
In all fairness, there’s no point in focusing on the Whitecaps’ attack until they prove they have one, right? Rather, a big focal point for the match may come down to how well Vancouver can defend against the Quakes’ midfield pairing of Jackson Yueill and Judson.
I know I’m centered on Qazaishvili here, but its Yueill and Judson who have done an admirable job in threading passes on the attack. I get the feeling they’ll do their best to exploit Nerwinski along the right side, as opposed to Ali Adnan on the left.
And that means Vako will most likely be the target on the attack, whether its through direct balls to run onto or as part of a hold-up play, running onto laid off passes from Chris Wondolowski up top.
Who’s Going to Win?
The only thing the Vancouver Whitecaps have going for them going into this match is their home record against San Jose. That’s pretty much it, as the Caps are on a 0-4-1 slide in which they’ve been outscored 16-3, most recently suffering through a midweek, cross-country trouncing in Massachusetts.
We’re in the valley of despair, folks, and it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Whitecaps pull out a result absent of the occasional influx of MLS irony, and as far as that’s concerned I’m pretty certain we wasted our share for this season two months ago.
But we’re playing at home and that’s always worth something, so at best this will result in a 1-1 draw. At best.
Vancouver - Crépeau; Adnan, Godoy, Henry, Nerwinski; Bangoura, Erice, Hwang, Venuto; Reyna, Montero.
San Jose - Vega; Lima, Jungwirth, Kashia, Thompson; Yueill, Judson; Qazaishvili, Eriksson, Espinoza; Wondolowski.
Referee: Sliviu Petrescu; AR1: Brian Dunn; AR2: Gianni Facchini; 4th: Alejandro Mariscal; VAR: Tim Ford; AVAR: Kevin Klinger.