Saturday night in San Jose, the Vancouver Whitecaps will be defending a playoff spot for the first time in a long time.
The timing is just about as good as the Whitecaps could have hoped for. With just four games left in the regular season, and with two of their four remaining opponents within three points of them in the playoff race, Vanni Sartini’s men are very much in the driver’s seat to control their destiny.
San Jose meanwhile, is going to be looking for some help. The ‘Quakes did help themselves in their most recent fixture against Austin FC, in which they took full advantage of the beleaguered expansion team, trouncing them by a score of 4-0 on Wednesday night at PayPal park. Yet despite this victory, San Jose still sits six points back of the Whitecaps and with two fewer wins on their record so far this season. It’s going to be an uphill battle for San Jose to make the playoffs, even if they beat the Whitecaps this weekend.
Like many teams that find themselves mid-table in the West, consistency, or lack thereof, has plagued the ‘Quakes for much of the year. San Jose has a lot of interesting players at their disposal, but sometimes optimizing their lineup and getting the most out of the players they have has been a struggle, sound familiar?
So much has been made of Matías Almeyda’s man-marking system, and while some of that remains, San Jose has been doing its best to revitalize its defensive identity. Match in, match out, this has either worked very well or not worked at all.
The ‘Quakes have been the epitome of “feast or famine” so far this year at the back. One player who, to my surprise, has tracked this divide well is 24-year-old American CB Tanner Beason.
As you can see, there’s been a third of the season where San Jose has been disastrous at the back, but other than that, they’ve been a solid team. This can be said of the entire middle of the pack in the West, but the ‘Quakes embody the identity particularly well. Minnesota might be the sole exception to that rule, as they’ve been rock solid after a horror start to the year (more on that before the next match).
The last time these two teams met, which wasn’t so long ago, Brian White took MLS by storm scoring a hat-trick. More than that, it was one of the few times in recent memory that Vancouver played their opponents off the pitch, never really giving San Jose a chance to get into the match. The Quakes looked demoralized throughout the affair, and I have little doubt this is something that has remained in their collective memory headed into this match at home.
The big question for Vancouver, as has been the prevailing topic for the past few matches, is how many centrebacks will be healthy? Cristian Gutierrez played admirably at the back in Portland, while Javain Brown struggled, and I think it’s fair to say that he might be better in a back three than as a wingback. Bruno Gaspar, who is coming off undoubtedly his best showing in a Whitecaps shirt, could feature prominently again if fitness levels allow.
It all depends on the status of Erik Godoy and Ranko Veselinovic. If either of those two is fit, they’re an obvious choice for the starting XI, but if both of them are out, things could get more complicated. If we assume both of the centrebacks are out, the starting lineup could look something like this:
If the Whitecaps are capable of beating Portland on the road, they are most certainly capable of beating San Jose. That being said, desperation will play a definite factor for San Jose, as they need all three points in this match to realistically stay alive in the playoff race.
I think that this desperation might be something the Whitecaps can use to their advantage. The Whitecaps will get their chances in this match, so as long as they can capitalize, I see them coming out on top.
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes