If you’re looking for an underdog story, look somewhere else.
The Vancouver Whitecaps, who missed out on the playoffs last season, made sure to take full advantage of their return Thursday with an emphatic 5-0 victory against the San Jose Earthquakes.
It was an impressive performance, confirming that the club’s third-place finish in the West was no fluke.
The first stages of the match were exactly what many predicted: Two opposing strategies battling playoff nerves as the hosts looked to take the game to the opposition with the counter, while San Jose searched to silence the crowd with possession.
San Jose nearly took the lead early on as a fantastic Stefan Marinovic save from Aníbal Godoy’s set piece was the only thing that kept it 0-0 in the first five minutes.
In the 27th minute, the Whitecaps had their first real opportunity when Tony Tchani’s header from a freekick just outside the box was misdirected.
But the hosts kept pushing and Fredy Montero, who’s been fantastic all season and was still searching for his first ever playoff goal, finally got it in the 33rd when the Colombian picked off a header from a corner and made it 1-0.
San Jose started the second brightly as Wondolowski’s shot was pushed away in the first minute. The Quakes’ captain attempted another shot just outside the box in the 52nd minute but it went straight into the hands of Marinovic. A minute later, the visitors got another chance with a free kick opportunity from basically the same spot but Danny Hoesen placed it over the bar.
The Whitecaps made them pay as Cristian Techera’s fantastic free-kick five minutes after Hoesen’s made it 2-0. It was a beautiful curling shot by the 5’2 Uruguayan.
And then, Vancouver took over: Kendall Watson tapped in a saved attempt in the 64th minute, as the visitors just couldn’t get it out of the box.
Things went from bad to worse for the Quakes when Christian Bolaños found an unmarked Nicolás Mezquida in the box and made it 4-0. And then it went from worse to catastrophic when Mezquida doubled his tally and made it 5-0 almost immediately.
All in all, a fantastic night for Vancouver and now the Canadian team will face last year’s champions Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference semifinals.
Here are three thoughts on the match.
Vancouver’s plan is simple but effective
There really isn’t much to think about when you try and break down the Whitecaps. Carl Robinson has made this team into a fast, athletic squad with a very simple system: exploit the wing, put it in the box, repeat.
If you’re the opposition, it may sound easy to solve but the problem is that Vancouver has so many weapons you just don’t know who to focus on. There is the speed and agility of Yordy Reyna but when he’s not having a good game (like tonight) then you still have to worry about Techera, Mezquida and of course, Montero.
It’s going to be extremely difficult to keep up with this Vancouver pace no matter how simple the plan is.
How to face Seattle
There is no doubt one of the highlights of this matchup will be Montero’s battle with his old club, and hopefully, for Montero’s sake, it will be much better than the last time they faced each other. Seattle hosted Vancouver at the end of September and won 3-0 while the Colombian was basically non-existent. The biggest story, however, is how the Whitecaps will deal with Seattle’s creativity when the team has the ball. If Vancouver is to go through, then it must play the patient game and focus on tiring the opposition out.
Improve on possession
There is nothing wrong with a team who prioritizes counter-attacking football over possession—the Whitecaps, in fact, are extremely good at it, probably better than anyone else—but the problem with Vancouver is that sometimes, when it does have the ball and has to deal with high pressure, it often runs out of ideas in the middle. There will be times when the Whitecaps will have to rely on possession in order to develop rhythm and roll with momentum so it’s imperative Robinson works on this during training. The team dealt with it against the Quakes but things are going to get tougher. If the Canadians are to make it even further, they must improve on the weaker aspect of their game: keeping the ball.