Vancouver Whitecaps FC (12th in West, 3-7-7) vs San Jose Earthquakes (5th in West, 5-7-6)
Location: PayPal Park, San Jose
Date and Time: Aug 13th, 10:30 pm EST, 7:30 pm PST
Watching: TSN (in Canada) & MLS Live on ESPN+ (in US)
The second match of the post-Gauld era is upon us. While the Whitecaps find themselves on a decent little unbeaten run, it just so happens that it is not a productive one, as the Cascadian team finds itself rooted to the bottom of the Western Conference. After what was a season of highs and lows in 2020 that resulted in a rare finish without a draw, it looks like the draw floodgates have been opened as of late, as the Whitecaps are sitting on six ties in their last eight games, interrupted only by a win and a loss. Out of those draws, the Whitecaps have given up the winning position on half of them and only clawed back on the two most recent occasions. That is to say, the Whitecaps have been fragile in protecting a lead, whether that be due to squad depth or flaw in tactics, but that looks to be subtly changing.
The arrival of Ryan Gauld has been talked about to death at this point, and at this point all he has left to do is turn people’s talk into actual production. That might be a little easier said than done though, as the Whitecaps were dealt a massive blow in the form of DP striker Lucas Cavallini being out for the foreseeable future, so it’ll be on the two subs, White and Ricketts, to make a difference with the Scottish Messi now on board.
The Whitecaps have their work cut out for them, and if there is any team that would be a perfect proving ground for the new signing to demonstrate his qualities, it’s against another playoff-line hovering team. Opposition like this will allow Gauld to perform potential moments of magic (Were he to start, of course.) at less pressure than he would be facing some of the top teams in the division.
That’s not to say that the San Jose Earthquakes are pushovers, far from it. A historic team in North American soccer, the team has gone under many identity changes through the years. Arguably at their strongest at the turn of the millennium, the Earthquakes have only made the playoffs twice in the past five years. (Once eliminated in the historic Whitecaps win of 2017) The team, much like Vancouver, is looking to become a regular playoff team, although many factors have prevented them from doing so. This current season, Eduardo Lopez has been their top goalscorer with five strikes so far. Not an amazing number, but he is not the only threat they posses. Arguably the team’s biggest threat is the duo of Cade Cowell and Cristian Espinoza. Between the two of them they have a combined sixteen contributions, only three less than Vancouver as a team, being the joint top productive players for San Jose. That is a scary thought within itself before you factor in the recent trade of Jeremy Ebobisse from Portland, who is improving in his goalscoring instinct as the seasons go on.
San Jose’s attack is loaded at the moment, so it’s tough to say who the defense should prioritize on covering, as focusing on one of the four aforementioned players could free up another to cause havoc in open space. While this may sound daunting, San Jose’s defense is nearly equal to that of the Whitecaps, conceding one less goal. This accounts for a top heavy lineup that is insecure about the defense, (Hence the recent sale of one of their defensive players to Vancouver.) but there is still some quality to be found there in players such as Oswaldo Alanis and Marcos Lopez. What the Whitecaps could exploit would be their shoddy disciplinary record, since San Jose sits right outside the top five in yellow cards received by teams, and is joint top in red cards received. A player like Cavallini who can get under player’s skins would have been great for this match, but the ‘Caps will just have to adjust like they have so many times before. Controlling the midfield and not allowing San Jose’s attacking players to perform could raise frustrations and give the Whitecaps opportunities to exploit their defense.
In terms of predictions, I can see the Whitecaps snapping their draw streak with a 2-1 victory over the Californian rival. Here’s what the rest of the team predicted.
Sam: 2-1 SJE
Caleb: 2-1 VAN
Andrew: 1-0 Victory
Ian: 2-2 Draw
What are your predictions in for the game? Do you expect the Whitecaps to struggle? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.