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MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at San Jose Earthquakes

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Dos Santos urges his team to “make it count” as pivotal clash with San Jose looms

Struggling for any semblance of consistency, can the Vancouver Whitecaps finish strong as they look to secure a playoff birth?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps have been a confusing and frustrating team to watch this season. Just when you think you might have things figured out, they surprise you yet again, and most of the time, it hasn’t been in a good way.

Nonetheless, as the team heads into their Western Conference clash with the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at 7PM, I’m wondering what I’m sure many of you are thinking as well, which team is going to show up this weekend? The one that beat LAFC a week and a half ago, or the one that couldn’t get anything going against a beleaguered LA Galaxy side last weekend?

This is definitely not a team I’d want to be betting money on, but the Whitecaps were certainly talking the talk as they rested and recuperated back in Vancouver. They still have their playoff fate in their own hands during these final four matches (especially against San Jose and LA), and following training on Thursday afternoon, we got the chance to catch up with Head Coach Marc Dos Santos, as well as Janio Bikel & Lucas Cavallini prior to their travel back “home” to Portland.

Dos Santos led things off by explaining what attitude he wants his team to take into the home stretch of the regular season:

“Those games [against San Jose and LA] are massive...Our focus with the players right now is just how much of a “final” this game is against San Jose. It’s a very big game for us. We are very focused.”

“If we are going through all of this [the travel, being away from families], we have to try to make it count. Step one is being in the top eight in our conference and being in the playoffs...there is a side to this year that is very hard...we’ve been away all the time...the amount of sacrifices that we have put in, this only makes sense if we can make it count, and make something big out of this.”

Frontman Lucas Cavallini echoed Dos Santos’ thoughts, and also provided what I thought was a very apt analogy for the kind of success he and his teammates are looking to bring to the club:

“I want to go home to my family with something to show for this season...When I get to come back home and see my family, it’s like winning a trophy. But I also want to bring that same feeling here to the club. We [the players] all have two families - the one here and the one at home.”

Lastly, Janio Bikel shared that he doesn’t really enjoy that much time away from the pitch (even during a weird and wild Covid delayed season), as well as how he’s going to try to keep himself out of the official’s book:

“I missed it, two days without doing anything was enough....It’s been hard for me [adjusting to MLS officiating]. It’s been my style of play to be very aggressive but obviously I have to be careful. I don’t want to put my team in a difficult position.”

The Whitecaps certainly sound like they are ready to take on San Jose this Saturday night, but the recent track record between these two teams has been concerning to say the least.

This club is going to have to bring a lot more to the table than they did against the Galaxy if they want all three points in this one, which will likely be crucial in the fight for a top eight spot in the West. Marc Dos Santos is 0-4 so far against the Quakes during his Whitecaps tenure, and the team from the Silicon Valley has proven they can beat the Whitecaps multiple ways this year.

Memorably, The Quakes overcame a late deficit in Orlando to grab an opening MLS-is-Back victory by a score of 4-3, and more recently, San Jose trounced Vancouver at Avaya Stadium on October 7th by a score of 3-0. In the most recent defeat, the Whitecaps held just 34% of the possession and completed just three passes inside the opponent’s penalty area.

Since the match against Vancouver, the Earthquakes have gone 1-1-1. They fell 3-0 to the Timbers in Portland, but have bounced back with a 4-0 victory against the Galaxy midweek, followed by a low event 0-0 draw at home to Seattle this past weekend.

By introducing JT Marcinkowski into the fold between the sticks, the Quakes have become a much more consistent, albeit still very enigmatic team, that is slowly learning how to manage matches at a higher level. Results such as their most recent 0-0 against Seattle serve as a perfect example of this. Even against Vancouver last time out, Matias Almeyda’s style felt more precise, and less hopefully cavalier than previous iterations I’ve experienced.

So how exactly will Marc Dos Santos & Co. look to respond to a challenging San Jose Earthquakes side? For one, we know that the Whitecaps will continue to be without David Milinkovic, who remains in Vancouver due to a non-Covid related illness.

This is tough news for the Whitecaps as they really could’ve used another dynamic attacker for the stretch run, although perhaps David will be able to return before the end of the regular season - it’s hard to say at this point.

Other than that, the Caps are about as full strength as they’re going to be for the rest of this regular season. I’d expect MDS to revive the lineup that triumphed 2-1 over LAFC, with Janio Bikel and Leo Owusu partnered in the middle of a 4-4-2. Dos Santos really seems to value continuity, and I think that this formation (yes, even with Teibert at LW) sets up decently well against San Jose. It didn’t work out last time these two teams played each other, but it feels like Dos Santos has made significant changes to how the 4-4-2 sets up since then, especially with Owusu and Cavallini back in the lineup this time out (both missed the last SJ match).

All that being said, I have a hard time trusting the Whitecaps to earn all three points. Andy Rios and Cristian Espinoza have looked really dangerous recently for the Quakes, and the match against the Galaxy significantly dimmed my confidence in this Whitecaps team. If you can’t take advantage of vulnerable teams at the bottom of the standings, how can you expect to be truly competitive with the top teams?

I’m going to predict a high scoring draw for this one, with a 3-3 final score. That would be a decent result for both teams, and would most likely help them maintain their narrow grip on the final two playoff spots in the West.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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