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Whitecaps in search of a late-season reset on the road in San Jose

With the playoff picture becoming more challenging, road points over the next two fixtures are a must.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday night in San Jose, the Vancouver Whitecaps will take on the San Jose Earthquakes at Pay Pal Park in an effort to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Following a massively disappointing 3-0 home loss to Nashville this past weekend, Vancouver will have to do some soul searching this week at training to determine the cause of what was perhaps their worst performance of the season in their most crucial match to date.

Furthermore, they will have to prepare for the matchup in San Jose without their leading goal scorer Lucas Cavallini. After being sent off for a red card incident early in the second half against Nashville, it is almost certain that the Canadian International will miss at least three games, although the disciplinary decision has yet to come down from the league.

Looking to the matchup itself, San Jose has really struggled this season. They fired Matias Almeyda earlier this year and are now in a holding pattern for 2023, as they eagerly await the moment when Luchi Gonzalez will take control of the side. Unfortunately for the Quakes, this will only happen after the World Cup, as Gonzalez is currently serving as an assistant for the USMNT.

MLS: FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of the Earthquakes’ form as of late, to say it has been poor would be an understatement. The Quakes only have one win in their last eight matches, and they currently hold the second worst defensive record in the league, having conceded 55 goals so far this year.

Despite their struggles, San Jose’s lone win over that stretch of matches was an impressive one: a huge 2-1 home win over league-leaders LAFC back on August 20th.

In terms of attacking threats, Jeremy Ebobisse has been very productive with 14 goals to his credit in 2022, just one of those coming from the penalty spot. Equally, Argentine Cristian Espinoza has been having a very good year as a creator with 6 goals and 7 primary assists. Overall, the Quakes have a young and dangerous front four that can give other teams problems, especially in transition.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The issues for San Jose in 2022 have been largely defensive and depth-related. Brazilan centreback Nathan has been a disappointing signing given the hefty price the club paid, while their options at fullback are quite limited.

Added to this, while Jackson Yueil and Jan Gregus are both quality players, Gregus is on the wrong side of thirty, and more importantly, the duo simply does not have enough support around them to hold things down match in and match out, especially in front of the aforementioned questionable back four.

Flipping things back to Vancouver, when you look at their last ten matches, their form is not much better than San Jose, with just 2 wins. That being said, Vancouver has made a habit this summer of finding ways to eke out points away from home.

However, at this point in the season, a single point is likely not enough to keep pace with those around them in the Western Conference playoff race. If the Whitecaps want to keep things interesting come decision day, they will need three points out of one of their next two road matchups: either this weekend in San Jose, or the following weekend in Colorado.

As is tradition between these two teams, I can see this matchup being a chaotic and high-scoring affair. A great example of this was back on May 14th at BC Place where the Whitecaps, despite holding the upper hand for much of the match, had to rely on a 90th-minute Erik Godoy equalizer to salvage a point in front of their home crowd, with the match ending 3-3.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

If Vancouver can clean up some of their deficiencies from the Nashville match, where surprisingly they didn’t allow much in terms of Xg, they can compete for three points on Sunday. San Jose is not good enough defensively to stifle the Whitecaps in the way Nashville did. The question, as it has been for most of the season, is whether or not Vancouver can maintain the mental sharpness necessary to avoid conceding cheap goals. Because if Vancouver does lapse defensively, Ebobisse and Espinoza will be there to capitalize.

To keep things interesting, I am going to say that Vancouver can find a couple of early goals and keep the playoff hunt well and truly alive with an entertaining 3-2 victory in San Jose.