VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC host San Jose Earthquakes tonight in a single-elimination, Knockout Round playoff match at BC Place (7:30 p.m. PT – tickets still available).
Here are three key matchups I’ll be watching.
ALY GHAZAL (DM) VS. CHRIS WONDOLOWSKI (FWD/AM)
Chris Wondolowski has been a ‘Caps killer over the years. His 11 goals against Vancouver are the most of any player in MLS history – and six more than the next closest players.
The man they call “Wondo” made his name in MLS as an out-and-out centre forward, a “fox in the box” as they say. But more recently, he’s been playing a bit deeper as an attacking midfielder behind Dutch loanee Danny Hoesen, and it’s been working.
Wondolowski will still make runs into the box, so the ‘Caps defenders certainly can’t sleep on him by any means, but he’ll also drop into pockets in midfield to try and get on the ball – as he did against Vancouver on October 15, setting up San Jose’s equalizer with a cheeky little back heel.
That’s where Aly Ghazal comes in.
Ghazal will have a big role to play in shielding Vancouver’s back line and occupying the spaces in midfield that Wondolowski likes to drop into. In just seven matches, Vancouver’s new Egyptian midfielder has established himself as an absolute force in midfield. He’s strong, he’s physical, and perhaps most importantly, he hates losing.
And the ‘Caps will be relying on those qualities come Wednesday night.
“He cares for the club,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. “In the last minute of the game on Sunday, he’s frustrated because we’re unable to get that equalizer. I want players that care. If you don’t care, I don’t want you to be here.”
YORDY REYNA (AM) VS. ANIBAL GODOY (DM)
“There’s talk about him being arguably the best player the club’s had and if he keeps going the way he is, I won’t disagree with them.”
That’s what Robinson had to say about Yordy Reyna not too long ago.
It’s high praise and it says all you need to know about the impact Reyna has made since returning from a fractured foot suffered in the preseason. The Peruvian attacking midfielder had six goals and four assists in just 11 starts, including a goal against San Jose on October 15.
He’s a treat to watch – and someone who can change a game in an instant.
The Quakes midfield duo of Anibal Godoy and Darwin Ceren will be looking to prevent that from happening. I’d like to highlight Godoy in particular though, because he’s typically one of San Jose’s most influential players in midfield.
Godoy led San Jose in touches and successful passes during the regular season. He also conceded the third most fouls in all of MLS, which should make for an interesting matchup with Reyna, who is lightning quick on the dribble and a handful for opposing midfielders/defenders.
Don’t be surprised if these two come together at some point on Wednesday.
CRISTIAN TECHERA (RW) VS. SHEA SALINAS (LB)
Is Cristian Techera key to Vancouver’s success? The stats certainly say so.
Consider this: Whitecaps FC have never lost a game in which Techera has recorded a goal or assist. They are 18W-0L-8D. I’ll help you out: that’s 26 games.
It’s remarkable, really.
Also, as pointed out this week, the ‘Caps have never lost a game in which Techera has started with Reyna and striker Fredy Montero. Coincidence? Maybe.
Either way, “The Bug” is a big player for Vancouver.
And on Wednesday, he’ll likely be lined up opposite to Shea Salinas, a converted left back who played for the ‘Caps during their inaugural MLS campaign in 2011. As you can see below, Techera got the better of Salinas on October 15, drawing him out before hitting Jake Nerwinski on the overlap in the build-up to Vancouver’s lone goal.
Can he do so again on Wednesday?