It wasn’t the most comfortable of victories, but the Whitecaps did what they needed to do last weekend: pick up the full three points on the road in San Jose. Now, they face the Earthquakes once again, this time at home with the stakes just as high. Only four points separate fourth-placed Real Salt Lake and eighth-placed Vancouver, so though they are not in an enviable position, the ‘Caps are still fully in control of their own destiny.
I expect to see the same backline from last week, as injuries to Doneil Henry and José Aja mean Aaron Maund should keep his place next to Kendall Waston, while Jake Nerwinski and Marcel de Jong will likely start at fullback. De Jong is the most likely to be replaced, due to his spotty play last time out, but with Brek Shea injured the other options are Brett Levis (who I like but can’t seem to play a full 90 minutes) and Alphonso Davies (please no).
The big question mark for this weekend is Felipe. He started alongside Russell Teibert last week, but was replaced by Aly Ghazal early in the second half, at which point the Whitecaps launched their comeback. For whatever reason, Felipe has not played at the level the ‘Caps thought they were going to get this season, so shifting to a dual pivot of Teibert-Ghazal might be the best course of action for the ‘Caps to take in these last few games.
The attacking quartet of Davies, Cristian Techera, Yordy Reyna, and Kei Kamara seem almost set in stone, and have powered the ‘Caps to a top-eight offense in MLS. It is too late in the season to expect the defence to transform into a high-level (or even average) unit, so if the Whitecaps are to make a charge into the playoffs it will likely be due to purely outscoring their opponents.
On the side of the visitors, San Jose had a match on Wednesday and picked up just their fourth victory of the season, and their first home win since opening day. Their four wins have come against just two teams, as they have swept their season series against Minnesota (understandable) and Dallas (what?).
Their 4-3 victory on Wednesday was their second victory of the year against Dallas, and continued the Quakes’ recent trend of both scoring and allowing plenty of goals. There has been a total of 21 goals in San Jose’s last five matches, and that sort of run-and-gun game might be exactly what the Whitecaps want.
Jahmir Hyka and Vako Qazaishvili are two attacking players to watch for the Earthquakes, while Chris Wondolowski (who scored the winner against Dallas in his continued march to the all-time MLS goal-scoring record) is always a threat off the bench.
This is the last of any “very winnable” games for the Whitecaps. After Saturday they will play every Western Conference team currently ahead of them in the standings (except for RSL), with a cross-country trip to Toronto added in for good measure. With a load of proverbial six-pointers to close out the regular season this is the time for the big playoff push, which makes picking up three points at home against a subpar opponent even more crucial.