VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Whitecaps will put their strong defensive record to the test Saturday against the highest-scoring team in Major League Soccer.
The Whitecaps (4-2-2) host the league-leading San Jose Earthquakes (7-1-1) in the second meeting between the teams this season, after the California squad embarrassed coach Martin Rennie’s crew three weeks ago.
The Earthquakes overcame a 1-0 deficit to beat the visiting Whitecaps 3-1 on April 7, ending Vancouver’s record season-opening shutout streak at 427 minutes. All three San Jose goals came within a 10-minute span in the second half.
“Obviously, they’re a team that you can’t keep your eye off of for a second,” said Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon after practice Friday. “As you guys saw, we probably had about a 10-to-15-minute spell where we let them get at us, and it cost us. And, it’s a team that’s on a run, so we need to come out and match their intensity and sustain it all night long.”
The Earthquakes, coached by former Canadian national team manager Frank Yallop and Vancouver-born assistant Mark Watson, have racked up 20 goals and gone unbeaten in seven games. The Whitecaps have earned six clean sheets in eight regular-season games while allowing just six goals to rank second in the goals-against department behind co-leaders Kansas City and Seattle, who have surrendered just three apiece.
“For us, it’s just about concentration,” said Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit. “We showed against them for 70 minutes that when we concentrate we can keep them scoreless. We need to make sure we do that for 90 (Saturday).”
The Whitecaps are in position to record their third straight league win and fourth overall, taking Amway Canadian championship play into account.
DeMerit, a central defender, has little doubt about whom he needs to stop. San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski leads the league in scoring with 10 goals and has also furnished two assists. He has also had his way with the Whitecaps since they entered MLS last season.
The 29-year-old Danville, Calif., native scored two goals in the April victory and also netted all three goals for his team last season as the Quakes drew 1-1 and 2-2 with the Caps. Forward mate Steven Lenhart is no slouch, either, having produced four goals to date.
“(Lenhart) is hard to defend,” said DeMerit. “Any player that’s going to be a big physical presence is going to give you a tough day. You don’t want to wrestle with people for 90 minutes. That’s what he likes to do. So in those physical situations, that’s what you have to do. You have to compete with, and you have to affect his first touch.
“In times where he get touches on the ball, then Wondo moves really well off of him. So if we can negate those two, we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”
Saturday’s contest will be Vancouver’s third in a week. The Whitecaps are coming off a 2-0 win over Edmonton of the North American Soccer League in Amway Canadian championship play Wednesday.
Vancouver’s previous league decision was a 1-0 triumph in Columbus last weekend. But the Caps will be well rested after having left DeMerit, Korean defender Young-Pyo Lee and Brazilian striker Camilo at home from the trip to the Alberta capital. Striker Sebastien Le Toux, who leads the Whitecaps in scoring, made the trip, but did not play.
“Anytime you get a chance to rest your body when games come thick and fast is good for all of us,” said DeMerit. “There are a lot of guys in the squad that got a much-needed break, because we’ve been playing a lot of games so far this season.”
According to coach Rennie, the Whitecaps have also learned their lesson after the disappointing loss to the Earthquakes.
“The biggest lesson from that game is that you can never switch off,” said Rennie. “We were on such a run of not losing goals there that we were slightly complacent at that moment and it cost us.”
Rennie also continues to seek more offensive finish, which “would have made a difference” in the previous game against San Jose.
“There’s so much (that) goes into winning the game,” said Rennie. “You’re defending, you’re possessing, you’re attacking. There’s a lot to it. But if we can take our chances when we get them, it always makes a big difference, and I’m sure we’ll get some chances (Saturday).”
The Whitecaps will have a different up-front look from the Edmonton game.
Striker Eric Hassli, who his first goal Wednesday since last August, is not expected to start as Rennie balances his team’s fatigue during a busy time in the schedule. Meanwhile, Camilo is expected to see action after missing two games with a sore thigh that has bothered him much of the season. Le Toux will also return.
Notes: Rennie said striker Darren Mattocks, recovering from shoulder burns sustained in a cooking accident at home, is close to returning to the lineup. The same goes for forward Etienne Barbara, who has missed the entire season with a groin injury. … San Jose will play without former Whitecaps midfielders Shea Salinas (fractured clavicle) and Joey Gjertsen (knee). Forward Alan Gordon (hamstring) and defenders Victor Bernardez (knee) and Tim Ward (non-specific soft tissue) are also out.