RECAP — Tight. Close. Intense. If you wanted to describe the western conference playoff race with any of these words, you would be correct. For this fixture between the Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes, all eyes were focused around the playoff line, with the two sides occupying the last two playoff spots. Three points behind San Jose, and three points ahead of last place, Vancouver’s fate lay within the next 90 minutes.
Vancouver Whitecaps San Jose Recap: Caps Steal Three Points
Marc Dos Santos stuck with his classic 4-4-2 for the Whitecaps, with only a pair of changes from last week’s 1-0 loss to LA Galaxy. Janio Bikel served his one game suspension and came back to replace Michael Baldisimo in midfield, and Tossaint Ricketts got his first start since the last time these two faced off a few weeks back. Failing to pick up any points against the struggling Galaxy left a sour taste in Vancouver’s mouth, and a difficult ride to the end of the season, this one was a must win.
On the other side, Matias Almeyda stuck with the same starting 11 that drew 0-0 with the Seattle Sounders last week, keeping up their recent run of form, losing just one in their last six. The Earthquakes had never won a regular season game at Providence Park, and were desperately seeking separation from Vancouver and the rest of the pack below them in the western conference standings. The Third Wheel Derby was set.
More of the same from the Quakes
When these two sides met a little over three weeks ago, a slow, sluggish first half was on full display. That seemed to be the case Saturday night in Portland as well. Small flashes of impressive play, drowned out by backwards passing and needless fouls. It seemed as though we were heading down the same road, until Christian Espinoza decided to do something about that 24 minutes in.
Turning Ali Adnan inside out, Espinoza jetted off down the right wing with space in front of him. Vancouver were caught pressing too high up and had a flat back three, all of whom were caught ball watching. A brilliant cross towards the back post found Carlos Fierro perfectly, who volleyed home his second of the campaign past Evan Bush.
San Jose clung onto that lead and took it into the break. Vancouver (who were 1-0-10 when conceding first), knew that their season hung in the next 45 minutes. Having more possession and chances in the opening half, it wasn’t going to be enough for the Whitecaps. Facing Seattle and Portland over the next week, points won’t be guaranteed, so a 1-0 deficit would have to do.
Ali Adnan, best player 2.0
The joke around “Ali Adnan, best player” started early into his time with the Whitecaps last season. The trend, which drastically died down, has sprung back to life over the past few outings. Ever since regaining the starting role when Christian Gutierrez went down with an injury, Adnan has played some lights out soccer. And while Vancouver has been criticized for using a DP spot on a defender, it undoubtedly paid off last night.
Down 1-0 early in the second half, Adnan stood over a central free kick, 32 yards out from JT Marchinkowski. One sweep of the left leg later, it was a tied ball game. Rifling one over the wall, the strike burst the net and probably would have still kept flying for another 15 yards if the net didn’t stop it.
51 minutes down, 1-1
Time to start believing?
Adnan’s second of the year gave a shot in the arm of Vancouver, who seemed completely uplifted. That trend peaked just six minutes later, when Christian Dajome went on a flashy run down the left side. Using Lucas Cavallini essentially as a screen, Dajome squeezed past Oswaldo Alanis and fired off a tight angle shot. Marchinkowski palmed it aside, but unfortunately for him, it was right into the path of Tossaint Ricketts. The Canadian veteran tapped home his second of the year, and shot Vancouver into the lead.
San Jose stepped their game up marginally, and got stuck in more so than they did in the first 15 minutes of the half. But apart from a few loose balls bouncing in Vancouver’s box, nothing too fruitful came from the increased intensity. The game finished 2-1 in favour of the abroad Canadians, bringing the two sides level on points in the standings.
Looking ahead for the Whitecaps
Eager to get back to winning ways, Almeyda and his men face the side immediately below them in Real Salt Lake. That one is set for Wednesday night in San Jose, who are undefeated in their last three home games. The Earthquakes close out the year against LAFC and Seattle, so blowing this lead could prove to hurt the Californians later in the year.
Meanwhile Vancouver face both their Cascade rivals up next, first Seattle on Tuesday, then Portland next Sunday. Having won three of their last four, Vancouver has firmly set it’s eyes on holding it’s playoff place according to Dos Santos.
“Although we miss our families, we want to stay here. We want to stay in Portland and be in the playoffs. We don’t want to go through all this for nothing” – Marc Dos Santos