Preview: San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps

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Vancouver Whitecaps players celebrate after scoring a goal in a match against Real Salt Lake on September 9th, 2017 at BC Place. Photo by Hazel May

It’s a tale of two ends of the same spectrum. The Vancouver Whitecaps will be looking to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference Playoffs while the San Jose Earthquakes are merely trying to stay alive and climb over the elusive red line when the two teams meet on Sunday afternoon in Vancouver, BC.

It’s a simple scenario for Vancouver, a victory will give them the top seed in the West, as second place Sporting Kansas City enters Sunday with three fewer wins than the Whitecaps, which is the first tiebreaker rather than Goal Differential. For San Jose, a loss combined with an FC Dallas victory over Seattle would officially extend the Earthquakes playoff drought to five seasons and counting.

With the finish line in sight, the words “games in hand” have no more meaning in the crowded Western Conference Playoff picture. With two weeks left in the season, everyone has exactly two games to play to settle the dust. For Vancouver, it no longer means looking down the table and scoffing at the teams they were ahead of that had played more games. For the San Jose, no more trepidation about being in sixth, but having games in hand on the team in seventh.

The Earthquakes took some strong momentum into the International Break after knocking off the Portland Timbers 2-1 at Avaya Stadium. Vancouver did not get to take the International Break and struggled through a lifeless effort in a 3-0 road loss to the New York Red Bulls.

While Vancouver has been strong all season, they enter Sunday’s match on a bit of an inconstant streak. Bookending a huge win in Kansas City that may ultimately serve as the day the West was won were 3-0 defeats to Red Bulls as well as in a Cascadia Cup clash with Seattle, in which Vancouver did not match the intensity of their Cascadia rivals.

For San Jose to win and keep their playoff hopes alive, they will have to find a way to vanquish their road struggles in their final road game of the season. Not counting a 3-0 victory over the LA Galaxy in August, the Earthquakes have been lifeless on the road, having been beaten by three goals or more in six of their last seven on the road (the Galaxy game being the exception).

Anibal Godoy’s late goal the Earthquakes their second win in as many matches on Saturday at Avaya Stadium (photo credit: Lyndsay Radnedge)

The two teams haven’t faced off since the second week of the season, when the Whitecaps came into Avaya Stadium and took control of the match early, going up two goals in the first 17 minutes before a David Ousted red card for a tackle outside the box on a 23rd minute breakaway by Chris Wondolowski changed the flow of the game and the Earthquakes capitalized, rallying to a 3-2 victory.

Sunday’s slate of games has every Western Conference team playing their games simultaneously, so both teams will have one eye on the out of town scoreboard. With this game being a must win for San Jose, expect the Earthquakes to come out with a lot more intensity than they have shown in previous road tilts, particularly if they want to match the physicality that the Whitecaps are known for and the energy of a team looking to clinch the top seed in front of their home fans.

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