1. It all comes down to this. Win or go home. Or, as Vancouver Whitecaps FC defender Tim Parker said on Monday, “put up or shut up.” The ‘Caps host San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday night at BC Place in a single-elimination Knockout Round playoff match (7:30 p.m. PT – tickets still available). Surely, the ‘Caps would have liked to win the Western Conference. There’s no denying that. At the same time, no one remembers who wins the Western Conference. They remember what happens in the playoffs. It’s a clean slate, now. This is where the fun begins.
2. This will be Vancouver’s second home playoff match in MLS. This first came in 2015. It was an incredible spectacle – just ask Robert Earnshaw. “I've been in the game 18 years, and played in six countries including the Premier League, and that for me was one of the best atmospheres I've ever been involved in. BC Place was rocking. I looked around after about two or three minutes and thought, ‘Wow, this is where you want to be. This is how you want to play football.’”
3. Whitecaps FC captain Kendall Waston has written an open letter to fans ahead of Wednesday’s match. Waston is one of the most passionate players I’ve ever seen. There's probably nobody that wants to win more than he does. And you get a sense of that with this letter. It’s a must-read.
4. This is the fourth time Whitecaps FC have qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs during the MLS era, and third time in four years under Carl Robinson. The ‘Caps are still searching for that coveted first playoff victory, however. Will it come on Wednesday?
5. If Whitecaps FC do advance to the Western Conference Semifinals, they would face longtime Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders FC in the first leg this Sunday, October 29 at BC Place. Interestingly, Clint Dempsey is suspended for that first leg, at the least, after picking up a red card this past weekend. Seattle will host the second leg of the Western Conference semis on Thursday, November 2 at CenturyLink Field.
6. First things first, though. San Jose posted a 2W-0L-1D record down the stretch to sneak into the postseason, including a 1-1 draw at BC Place just over a week ago and a 2-1 win over Portland Timbers in their match prior to that. They are not a team that will go down lightly.
7. For the vast majority of his career, San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski has made his living as a poacher – a true centre forward who just finds ways to score goals. Wondolowski, in fact, has scored 11 goals against Vancouver over the years, which is more than any other player. The next closest players (Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Alvaro Saborio, and Erick Torres) have five. But recently, “Wondo” has been playing a little deeper as an attacking midfielder behind Dutch loanee Danny Hoesen, and he’s actually been quite effective. The Quakes captain has now recorded at least a goal or an assist in four straight matches, including a cheeky back heel assist vs. Vancouver on October 15 and a goal and an assist in San Jose’s playoff-clinching 3-2 win over Minnesota this past Sunday. Safe to say, keeping Wondolowski off the scoresheet will be one the key priorities for Vancouver.
8. It was Costa Rican international Marco Urena that actually propelled San Jose into the playoffs on Sunday with a 93rd-minute game-winning goal. Urena, who scored both goals for Costa Rica in a shock 2-0 victory over the U.S. at Red Bull Arena last month, is an international teammate of Christian Bolanos and Waston. They all actually went out for dinner after the October 15 match at BC Place. Urena has scored some big goals as of late for club and country – and so too has Waston, who scored the dramatic goal that sent Costa Rica to the 2018 FIFA World Cup earlier this month and set a new career-high in MLS with his fourth goal of the season Sunday in Portland. Do one or both of them have another in store on Wednesday?
9. I was quite impressed with Nosa Igiebor this past weekend. The Nigerian box-to-box midfielder had a team-high 37 successful passes, 92 per cent passing accuracy, three tackles, and three interceptions. He was also second on the team with 48 touches, and let’s not forget that he didn’t even play the full 90 minutes. Not bad for an MLS debut. It will be interesting to see if Igiebor is fit enough to make Vancouver’s 18-man roster, or even their starting XI, on Wednesday night.
10. Ahead of the MLS Cup Playoffs, ESPN polled 11 of their experts on who they think will win the MLS Cup. Nine of them picked Toronto FC. The other two? Vancouver. Just saying.