Whitecaps FC set for Easter weekend showdown at San Jose Earthquakes

'Caps make Easter weekend trip to San Jose Earthquakes

Following a bright start to their 2012 Major League Soccer season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-0L-2D) begin the month of April by visiting Western Conference rivals San Jose Earthquakes (3W-1L-0D) on Saturday afternoon.

Buck Shaw Stadium (stadium tour) on the campus of Santa Clara University will be the venue for this important Easter weekend showdown, with both clubs near the summit of the Western Conference standings. Vancouver and San Jose have done well to earn results and be very solid defensively during the opening weeks of the new campaign.

Saturday's match between Whitecaps FC and San Jose Earthquakes from Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, California, kicks off at 4 p.m. PT and is live on Sportsnet Pacific, as well as Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to Saturday’s contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 2 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show. Fans can also follow Saturday’s match on Twitter @WhitecapsMatch.

WHITECAPS FC

For Martin Rennie and his squad, the month of March provided a positive foundation towards the building of a successful MLS season. Though Whitecaps FC’s last two matches have ended in goalless draws, a four-match unbeaten run and being the only club not to concede a goal in league play last month offers references for motivation, as the Blue and White prepare for one of the in-form sides in MLS. At this stage last season, Whitecaps FC had conceded seven goals in the league. Now they are 61 minutes short of the MLS record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal to start a season, with the current mark belonging to the 2007 New York Red Bulls at 421 minutes.

An important area that will aid in achieving more clean sheets is an improvement of Vancouver’s attack play, with the ‘Caps having put plenty of emphasis on how they will look to open up San Jose’s stingy backline this week. While strikers Eric Hassli and Camilo Sanvezzo look set to return to the line-up after missing last weekend’s draw at Philadelphia Union, Vancouver will be without Atiba Harris after the MLS Disciplinary Committee suspended the St. Kitts & Nevis international for one game and fined him an undisclosed amount for his challenge on Philadelphia defender Carlos Valdes last weekend. The midfield, however, has been boosted by the return of youngsters Bryce Alderson and Russell Teibert this week following the pair’s recent spell with Canadaʼs U-23 Olympic team.

Whitecaps FC will be without left fullback Alain Rochat (knee), and strikers Etienne Barbara (groin) and Darren Mattocks (shoulder and arm burns) for Saturday’s match. Midfielder Floyd Franks (lower back pain) is listed as doubtful, while goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre (knee) and midfielder Michael Nanchoff (heel) are listed as questionable to face the Earthquakes. Camilo (quad) is listed as probable.

EARTHQUAKES

It may be early days, but San Jose Earthquakes have been one of the surprise stand-outs in MLS this season. Frank Yallop’s side come into the hosting of Vancouver on a two-match winning streak following away victories over Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders FC. In fact, the Northern California-based outfit have yet to concede a goal from open play this season, with San Jose’s backline proving to be almost as impenetrable as the ‘Caps, with three clean sheets in four games. A big reason for that early success has been Honduran centre back Victor Bernardez, who is one of a dozen new faces to arrive in San Jose this season. Yallop’s other key acquisitions include two midfielders in former FC Dallas man Marvin Chávez and Colombian import Tressor Moreno.

It is impossible not to talk about the Earthquakes without speaking about the 2010 MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski. Whitecaps FC found Wondolowski to be a real headache in 2011, as he scored San Jose’s three goals in the two match-ups versus Whitecaps FC last season. His nose for goal will provide a stern test of Vancouver’s sturdy backline this weekend.

San Jose will be without defender Tim Ward (soft tissue injury), midfielder Joey Gjertsen (knee), and striker Steven Lenhart (hamstring) for Saturday’s match. Turkish midfielder Sercan Guvenisik (hip flexor) is listed as doubtful, while midfielder Sam Garza (hamstring) is listed as questionable.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

This is the third meeting between Whitecaps FC and San Jose Earthquakes, with both clubs first facing each other in MLS last season. Their first MLS encounter was at a rainy Empire Field on May 11, 2011, as both clubs drew 1-1. Wondolowski gave San Jose the lead in the first half before Vancouver earned a point in stoppage time with a first MLS goal from Davide Chiumiento. The ‘Caps also drew the away clash with San Jose on July 20, 2011. Two goals by Hassli cancelled out Wondolowski's two goals for the Earthquakes in a 2-2 draw at Buck Shaw Stadium.

Before 2011, both clubs met in friendly action when Vancouver was a North American second division club. The 'Caps lost 3-1 to San Jose Clash in Abbotsford, BC, on June 14, 1998, before falling to the re-named Earthquakes 3-1 at Swangard Stadium on August 14, 2001. The Earthquakes then defeated the 'Caps 4-3 in a friendly at Swangard on September 1, 2003.

There is also plenty of history between Vancouver and San Jose dating back to the days of the original North American Soccer League (NASL). Between 1974 and 1984, Whitecaps FC registered 14 wins and 11 defeats in 25 meetings versus the Earthquakes, with the 'Caps recording six wins and seven defeats in San Jose during that era. Included in those 25 matches was Whitecaps FC's first competitive match as a club at the old Empire Stadium on May 5, 1974. A crowd of 17,343 saw Jim Easton's side lose that day, though 'Caps defender Neil Ellett wrote his name in the history books by scoring Vancouver's first goal in the old NASL.

There are several player connections between Vancouver and San Jose. A native of the Bay Area, Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Joe Cannon spent a large portion of his MLS career with San Jose before the 'Caps selected him in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft from the Earthquakes. San Jose midfielder Shea Salinas, meanwhile, played for Whitecaps FC in 2011 before being traded to the Earthquakes in exchange for allocation money last November. Whitecaps FC fans will always remember Gjertsen's role in taking Vancouver to a United Soccer Leagues First Division title in 2006 after being named the league's Most Valuable Player that season. Other connections include San Jose midfielder Moreno and Whitecaps FC striker Hassli spending two seasons together at FC Metz in France's Ligue 1, while Quakes newcomer Chávez and Vancouver striker Harris were teammates at FC Dallas.

As Western Conference rivals, Saturday’s match is the first of three regular season meetings between Whitecaps FC and the Earthquakes in 2012, and the only regular season match-up to take place at Buck Shaw Stadium. Whitecaps FC will then host San Jose on Bell Pitch at BC Place on Saturday, May 5, and Sunday, July 22.

HOME TO KANSAS CITY

Following the club’s lone regular season trip to Northern California, Whitecaps FC return to Vancouver to host a third-straight Eastern Conference opponent, as Sporting Kansas City pay a visit to BC Place on Wednesday, April 18, at 7 p.m. PT. Individual match tickets start at $20, plus applicable service charges, and are available at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca, and Charge-by-Phone at 1.855.6.GO-CAPS (1.855.646.2277). CLICK HERE for more information on Whitecaps FC tickets.

Whitecaps FC's home match versus Sporting Kansas City can also be seen live on Sportsnet Pacific and Bell mobile devices at 7 p.m. PT. 'Caps fans can also listen to the April 18 match live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 5 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show. Fans can also follow the April 18 match-up on Twitter @WhitecapsMatch.

Whitecaps FC 2012 Major League Soccer season tickets start at $295, plus applicable tax and a $10 processing fee per order. To secure a seat and for additional information about Whitecaps FC MLS season tickets, including loge seats and suites, call 604.669.9283 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.