A second half comeback of seismic proportions saw Vancouver Whitecaps move heaven and earth to keep their playoff hopes alive in Portland on Saturday night with a crucial 2-1 win over San Jose Earthquakes in the Third Wheel derby.
A stunning free kick from Ali Adnan and a poacher’s goal from Tosaint Ricketts saw the Whitecaps overturn Carlos Fierro’s first half volley and an insipid first half performance to come away with three massive points in the MLS Western Conference playoff chase, taking them above San Jose in the process.
Marc Dos Santos made two changes from the team that lost in LA on Sunday, bringing in Janio Bikel and Tosaint Ricketts, as he went for another experienced line-up and the 4-4-2 formation.
For a match the Whitecaps really had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, the first half performance was the polar opposite of what you’d expect from a team in that position as Vancouver struggled to control the ball, mustering just 37% over the half, and when they did have it, they simply couldn’t pose any threat with it.
It was a half to forget, but the one decisive moment fell to San Jose in the 24th minute and they took it with aplomb.
Cristian Espinoza left Adnan in his wake as he tore up the right wing and sent in an inch perfect cross to Fierro, who had ghosted in behind Jake Nerwinski to first time it past Evan Bush from 12 yards out.
Incredible work from Cristian Espinoza.
Classy finish from Carlos Fierro.
Quakes lead. pic.twitter.com/AYw0TwZWJe
— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) October 25, 2020
It was a lovely goal and a clinical finish, but for the umpteenth time this season, Vancouver did not track the run and left the goalscorer in acres of room and with loads of time, to put the ball in the back of the net.
There was a lot of blame to around on this one, but Nerwinski simply can’t allow himself to be drawn into the middle so much and have another ball fly over his head to an attacker at the back of the box. Woeful stuff all round defensively for the ‘Caps and it left their postseason hopes hanging by a thread.
It needed something special in the second half and whatever Dos Santos said to his team at the break, it worked, and they looked like a different team after the restart.
The something special that sparked the Whitecaps’ comeback came courtesy of Adnan, who fired home a stunning curling free kick from 35 yards out in the 51st minute that left Quakes keeper James Marcinkowski flapping as he tried to get something on it. An absolute cracker.
"He's not gonna hit it from there is he?"
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) October 25, 2020
It was game on, and it finally sparked the ‘Caps into life, led by the lively and dangerous Cristian Dajome, who was causing a number of problems for an increasingly shaky looking Quakes defence.
Vancouver started to turn up the heat in their makeshift home and they went ahead in the 57th minute in a move sparked by Dajome.
The Colombian got a ball from Lucas Cavallini, headed into the box and fired a cross into the six yard box. Marcinkowski stuckff out a glove but only parried it to the waiting Ricketts, who made no mistake in putting it away from a few yards out to fire Vancouver into a critical lead.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) October 25, 2020
The final 30 plus minutes was played end to end. Both teams created well and looked dangerous, but both teams lacked the decisive finish. It was nervy stuff but Vancouver finally realised that the best form of defence was to attack after San Jose had squandered a couple of great opportunities to grab the equaliser and kept the danger away, seeing out the match and securing a first victory over the Quakes this season.
And it couldn’t have come at a more important time, moving Vancouver above San Jose and into seventh spot in the standings with three games to go.
There were certainly concerns to take from this game, especially giving up another goal to an unmarked player and the overall lack of spark in the first half when the team needed to show so much more. But the fighting spirit, again, was pleasing to see. As is the belief this team has that they can make the playoffs and make all of this time away from their families worthwhile.
It’s not going to get any easier as they face two Cascadian rivals, who are fighting for first place in the West, in back to back games. They also don’t have much time to rest, with Seattle next up on Tuesday. The Sounders have an extra two days left and some of the Whitecaps will no doubt be running on fumes.
You want to go with the guys who got the job done in that second half, but fresh legs and perhaps a more defensive formation may be the keys to getting anything against the Sounders. Every point is now at a premium.
Three games to go and the Whitecaps have the same amount of wins (eight) in 20 matches as they did in all of last season. It’s still everything to play for, no team in the West has clinched a playoff spot, and after the year this has been, I’m not sure you could ask for anything else.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 – 1 San Jose Earthquakes
VANCOUVER: Evan Bush; Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinović, Érik Godoy, Ali Adnan (Cristián Gutiérrez 90+4); Tosaint Ricketts (Russell Teibert 69), Janio Bikel, Leonard Owusu, Cristian Dájome; Fredy Montero (Theo Bair 89), Lucas Cavallini (Andy Rose 90+3) [Substitutes not used: Bryan Meredith, Derek Cornelius, Ryan Raposo, Patrick Metcalfe, Michael Baldisimo]
SAN JOSE: James Marcinkowski; Nick Lima (Marcos Lopez 72), Florian Jungwirth (Siad Haji 80), Oswaldo Alanis, Tommy Thompson (Shea Salinas 71); Judson; Cristian Espinoza (Cade Cowell 80), 25.Andrés Ríos, Jackson Yueill, Carlos Fierro; Chris Wondolowski [Substitutes not used: Daniel Vega, Tanner Beason, Eric Calvillo, Paul Marie, Luis Felipe Fernandes]
Possession: VAN 38.7% – SJ 61.3%
Shots: VAN 9 – SJ 10
Shots on Goal: VAN 4 – SJ 2
Saves: VAN 1 – SJ 2
Fouls: VAN 17 – SJ 7
Offsides: VAN 0 – SJ 0
Corners: VAN 6 – SJ 6
MARC DOS SANTOS
Thoughts on the match:
“I thought the first half was an even game. But the thing is that we struggled a lot in the pressure from the front, our two wide players were guessing too much and almost man marking, almost got into the game of San Jose. And then that gives space to [Andy] Rios in pockets and to [Cristian] Espinoza in pockets, and defensively we struggled with that. When we had the ball and we started to run with the ball in space to try to beat the one v one there was very little movement off the ball from the other players. We addressed that at halftime, our wingers did a better job tucking inside and defending better those areas. We also were much more mobile in our offensive organization, more movement. I think when we started to come up with three players and the first phase of our buildup, bringing Leo [Owusu] between our centre backs, it allowed us to have more numbers, we started with the three v two in the last third and then get into good areas. Then Ali [Adnan] scores a very good free kick and it brings belief, because we know we did it again Salt Lake here. We were very calm at halftime, there was no anxiety, there was a realization that what we had to do better. And I think the first 15 minutes, 20 minutes of the second half were very good from us. Then they were able to, when we scored the 2-1, to push a little bit, put us a little bit under pressure, but without really being very dangerous, was more from wide areas. Look, and again, the mindset, the belief, the mentality, the fighting to get in into being the top eight is always there. And again, like I said, we’re going to push and try and have this team pushing until the end because we want to stay here. Although we miss our families, we want to make sure that we stay here after the regular season to play playoffs.”
On Cristian Dájome making a difference in the second half:
“So defensively I think he got into the game in the first half of San Jose. Because he was being man marked by Nick Lima, he then had the tendency to mark him when we were defending and that opened the gaps that we didn’t like. Then he stayed too much on the line when we had the ball. And I think in the second half not only he closed inside much better, but he was also going from the right to the centre, going to the left. We need when we play San Jose to be very mobile, to play a lot of the ball, not to stay in our positions, because that’s what opens up. And I think that’s the part he did much better in the second half.”
On attacking to end the match rather than defending:
“We want to be a team that pushes up more, pressures more, and I think in the last six games you guys have seen a team that at least tries to step more the lines, to be more in the opponent’s midfield, try to score goals. It comes from different people, you know sometimes comes from Cava, from Fredy, from Cristian. Today it comes from Ali and Tos. But what we felt is in injury time, in the last five minutes, they put so many players inside our box, and they would probably start going a little bit more direct. I had a flashback of MLS is Back where I still regret until today where we should have went with a back five in that moment when we were up 3-2, and we didn’t and then they start putting balls in, and that’s why we decided to bring another centre back in and close the game with a back five. But, I think Theo [Bair], the time he was in he kept the pressure, he kept trying to get in behind. And yes, I agree with you. The best way to defend is if you don’t allow the opponent to play. And when you have the ball, you keep it, because then they have to run after you. I think our second half overall was a solid second half. And because of that, we deserved the three points tonight.”
On what he was thinking on Ali Adnan’s free kick:
“I know how Ali needs a certain distance. Ali not all the time on a free kick. If he’s very close to the goal is maybe not his best. When he has a little bit of distance. the way he hits the ball is very dangerous. He scored a goal against New England in preseason, a little bit this distance, and even if you remember in MLS is Back he had a free kick more or less that distance that Tim Melia saved and it could have been very dangerous. So when there’s a certain distance with Ali centrally, we know that it’s going to be dangerous. So, yes, I had a lot of belief. I was asking the guys to continue and follow the rebound, because I was sure the ball would go on target. But it’s good, no rebound, ball in the net, 1-1.”
On how much Ali’s goal lifted the team:
“Yeah guys, we didn’t lack energy in the first half. Just that we were running in bad areas, and we were closing down the wrong way. So you can have a lot of energy and run in bad areas and you’re running and it looks like you don’t have energy. I think what we did in the second half, we just were better closing down the gaps in the midfield, and better in our offensive organization in our movement. But of course, you get in the second half, you have a belief, you address a couple of things, but now you need the goal, you need the goal that makes us go on. What we said at half time is we need to get points from this game, and that was important not to lose tonight. So we wanted to go first after the tie, and then see what the game would offer us. Of course, when Ali scores that goal, I think in the guys there’s this flash in their heads of Real Salt Lake, we did it against them we could do it here again. There’s also that ego as guys that are in sports that man we wanted to beat San Jose. We lost against them in Orlando, we lost against them in San Jose. We felt in Orlando, we were so close. Then we played in San Jose, nine against 11 at a certain point. So we just wanted to make sure, this one we have to get something, and I think the goal of Ali, for sure gave the guys a lift and allowed us to go after the second one.”
On what the team needs to reach the playoffs:
“It depends on what the other guys do. It always depends the results of the other teams. I have a number in my head that I don’t want to share. I want to keep it between me and my staff. You guys know math, I was very bad at math when I was young. So you guys know much better than me, but I think that there’s a number that we could reach, but it always depends what the other teams do. So that number is depending on the opponents also, you know Salt Lake has to play against LA, and the Galaxy have to play tomorrow, so all of that, we don’t know what’s going to happen. So, what we know though, is we can only control our games. We’ve got the three points today.”
On facing Seattle in just three days:
“We play Tuesday, a game that is incredibly unfair. We have to go get energy, a lot of mental strength and to show up in the right way. Because I don’t think it’s right how the schedule was set, now Seattle plays against us with much more rest. So that’s not fair I think, but again we have to go one game at a time. The first game was today. We had time with our families, we rested, we were ready to win this game. We did, and now tomorrow we’ll evaluate everything, we’ll analyze and prepare Seattle. We have to go one game at a time. There’s a number in my head that I think for sure we make it, but I don’t want to share it so it doesn’t bring any more accumulated pressure on the group.”
On his passionate reaction to the win:
“I had three Red Bulls before the game. I don’t know what time I’m going to go to bed today. But you know what, man the guys are a great group, and we’re here at the hotel, they’re together, they want to do well. They wanted to win tonight, they pushed. We needed everybody to do that. And, of course, that when you say a weight off my shoulders, [it] was man we didn’t want to lose three games against San Jose this year. We felt we should have had something in at least one of the games, so the reaction and the belief of the group and how they pushed was incredible, and credit to them that they keep believing and they understand the value that they have. We want to be in the top eight, we’re fighting for that, you guys know who we are, you guys see that the team never gives up. And we want to keep pushing like that until the end. We have Seattle coming up, Portland, then LA Galaxy. We have to go one game at a time. Today, mission accomplished. Then we’ll prepare Seattle, that’s going to be a difficult one also.”
On what it would mean to the group to make the playoffs:
“I don’t want to celebrate something that is so far out of being accomplished, guys we’re still very far. Sometimes there’s this X amount of points that look so close but so far. It can be so far, so really, was it a step forward and important, yes. Last year this team after 34 games, won eight. This season after 20, we have eight wins. Very few teams have the amount of wins that that we have also, the problem is that we should have had more draws and those 12 losses it’s what hurts us. Because if those 12 losses would have been at least three of them draws, we would have been in a much better position also. But there’s an improvement, and there’s an improvement in the middle of a lot of adversity. And you go back to see the group that went to MLS is Back. You go back to the amount of players that had to leave for different reasons the club, and nobody came in because of COVID and transfer market. But nobody here put their heads down, we’re maximizing the group, everybody is pushing, everybody’s working hard – staff, players. The margin for progression of this club is very big. So, these are all steps that allow the club to grow.”
On tonight’s win:
“The character that we showed tonight coming from a goal down, the fight we brought the whole game from start to finish was fantastic. Credit to the group, credit to the mentality, and credit to the boys who put in a shift today.”
On difference in the second half:
“Just the desire. We came into halftime, you can see the boys are kind of feeling down, we felt like we needed more out of this. We came in wanting to fight. We need three points to get one back in San Jose and the second half showed what type of character we have in this team, what type of guys we have in the team. It shows in the results. We worked hard, we battled, and we got the three points.”
On keys to protecting their lead:
“Not to get too loose. It’s important in those times to stay compact, stay tight as a team, battle for every inch, work for the guy next to you, and then really not give anything up when we have that lead.”
On his message to the group:
“I said it’s not over until it’s over. We’re in it. We fought back this whole season. There’s been a lot of adversity to go through, players leaving, our group being separated during the MLS is Back Tournament. A lot of obstacles that we have to overcome, being away from our families, living in Portland. There’s a lot of obstacles that are going against us right now but you know it’s an opportunity, an opportunity to show what type of group we are, what type of organization we are. And what we believe we can be now and in the future. So, we’re fighting for every point, we’re fighting to be in the playoffs, and we’ll keep fighting until the end.”
On their first win over San Jose this season:
“You don’t want to lose three games to any team. It’s a sign of dominance in my opinion and we came into this game wanting to get one back on them, but most importantly wanting to get those three points and keep our position on the table. We came in with that fight, and it showed throughout the game and then it showed how we came back in a second half.”
On playing Sounders on Tuesday:
“It’s one of the obstacles that we have to deal with. Tight turnaround. I don’t think that’s fair for us but we’ve been through it all, it’s just another hurdle so that’s how we’re going to take it. We’re going to get recovered, do what we have to do in the next few days to be prepared for that match and come up and fight the same way.”
Thoughts on tonight’s match and three points:
“It was a tough game, always is against San Jose, and every game in this league is tough. First half, they were a little bit better and they created a better chance to score a goal but we had a perfect response in second half and we didn’t panic. We knew that we would have our chances and in the second half we realized we can score from our chances. And we’re earned an important three points but we need to focus on the next game on Tuesday against Seattle because we are working for the playoffs so if we don’t go to the playoffs, these three points are not going to mean anything.”
Talk about the second half chance you had to score:
“Well I tried. I was in a tough position and I thought to shoot with my left foot, but I saw the players there so I tried. I’m gonna see on the video how it looked.”
Talk about the chemistry and understanding with the back four:
“He have had a couple games now I think four-in-a-row and for a backline that is really important to play games in a row. I think the whole team played better in the in the last four games. The whole team played better defence, we played a good press so it’s easier for us. We can push up and we can be more aggressive. And I think it works, it worked good in in the last four games.”
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
On tonight’s performance:
“I think we had a great first half in which we had the lead. We were interpreting how to play the game. But then we went back to making the same mistakes that were made previously. In five minutes, there was a lack of concentration that the opponent took advantage of. Once the opponent took the lead, I think the momentum in the match shifted. We were not able to find that final pass to create those chances that would give us the tie or win.”
On the team’s mentality and how to move forward:
“I don’t think we lost due to the lack of concentration. It was a lack of doing what we were doing well in the first half. It wasn’t that we played bad for 45 minutes, rather seven to eight minutes. There was virtue for the rival and there was little relentlessness on our part to put away the game when we were up 1-0. Our way of being from beginning to end is going to be the same, the same way we recovered when we were losing and when we were winning. We are trying to finish this season the best way we can and there are three matches left. We can soon be on vacation, or we can keep fighting for more. As long as we have our chance, we will fight until the last minute.”
On what Vancouver changed in the second half:
“I think it was a combination of a couple things. I think, one, Vancouver came out and wanted to press us down the middle, and we played right into the teeth of it. Also, we just weren’t able to connect passes. I think once we did connect a pass, we didn’t move after and give us an option. When we do that, we become stagnant. We lose a lot of possession and a lot of passes that we shouldn’t. That usually feeds into another team’s counterattack. They punished us twice and rightfully so. Then we’re playing catchup. I thought we combined well after that. We just couldn’t hit that final pass.”
On what lessons the team takes from this game:
“I think that we need to fix our mistakes. I think that we’ve been playing well, and that’s kind of been our MO over the last six or seven games, but five or 10-minute lapses here or there. I think that’s definitely hurt us. I think that once we let up a goal, we need to regroup, stay focused, and stay the course. I think once we get punched in the nose, we don’t know what to do. I think it takes us a little bit of time to find our feet again and get going. We need to be, from the kickoff, ready to go get it. I think that’s hurt us in the past. Even last year, it was kind of our bugaboo. We better learn from last year. We better have learned from these mistakes, this year. To be honest, I’m not too excited we’re making a lot of the same ones, so we’ve got to be better.”
On how the team avoids making the same mistakes as last year:
“It’s a great question. That’s the million-dollar question: what we need to do. That’s on myself. The captain better make sure guys are ready, guys are ready for the moment, ready to step up, and ready to take that moment on. I think that we’ve been playing well. I’m not sure if we get a little tight or a little nervous. I can’t put my finger on it, but I hope we figure it out soon.”