Having drawn in their previous four matches, Vancouver Whitecaps FC look for the full three points against fellow Western Conference side San Jose Earthquakes this Friday, August 13 at PayPal Park.
Friday’s contest will be the first meeting of the season between the two sides, with the ‘Caps claiming the victory in their last encounter with the Quakes in a 2-1 win last October.
In this edition of ‘Know thy enemy’, we break down the Earthquakes and their key pieces on the offensive.
ONE TO WATCH
After a slow start to the season, the Quakes have turned the page and now find themselves unbeaten in their last seven matches, collecting 11 points in the process.
The most impressive results from those seven matches have been wins against Supporter’s Shield leaders Seattle Sounders and Western Conference powerhouse LAFC, while also grinding out crucial away draws in hostile atmospheres against the Portland Timbers and Sporting KC.
Throughout the unbeaten run, there’s been plenty of key figures for San Jose but perhaps none have been as important as DP winger Cristian Espinoza.
The 26-year-old Argentine has registered a goal and four assists in the club’s unbeaten run, upping his tallies to two goals and six assists this season.
Espinoza also leads his team in key passes with 30 on the year, sitting in the top 15 across the league in the category.
Whether it be running to the byline to find his teammates in the area, whipping dangerous balls in from deep, dribbling his way past opposing defenders or having a go from distance himself, Espinoza can hurt any team in Major League Soccer on any given day with his distinct skillset.
Espinoza has also had a knack of putting in key performances against the ’Caps in the past, scoring once while adding four assists in five career matches against the Blue and White.
If San Jose find an attacking rhythm throughout Friday’s match, expect Espinoza to play a key role in dictating the play forward and offering a threat from wide situations.
While Espinoza is in his third MLS campaign with the Quakes, there’s been plenty of new faces contributing to the Quakes’ success so far this season.
Former Chivas attacking midfielder Eduardo “Chofis” López was brought in by San Jose during the offseason to provide creativity in the final third and bring some spark to the Quakes’ offense.
It’s safe to say the Mexican has settled into MLS pretty well, tallying five goals and an assist in 18 appearances, with two of those goals coming in the last two matches.
In addition, López sits second on the Quakes in key passes with 20, right behind Espinoza.
The Mexican likes to drift into spaces between the opposing team’s midfield and backline, in order to spread the ball out wide or in behind for his teammates.
Another big part of the Quakes’ success this season has been the play of new Brazilian centre-back Nathan.
Having played seven games since signing in late June, the former FC Zurich defender has slotted straight into the Quakes’ starting XI and provided an immediate defensive presence at the back for San Jose.
In those seven matches, Nathan has averaged 4.6 tackles, 4.6 clearances and 3.3 interceptions per 90 minutes, while also helping the Quakes tally one clean sheet.
The centre back has also chipped in with two goals off set pieces, heading home his first MLS goal in a 1-1 away draw against Sporting KC and nodding in the winner against LAFC last weekend.
Another new face on the Quakes’ roster is former Portland Timbers striker Jeremy Ebobisse, who was traded to San Jose on MLS transfer deadline day a couple weeks ago.
Ebobisse has yet to make his debut for his new team so there could be a possibility he suits up for his first Quakes appearance this upcoming Friday. If this happens, we might see a matchup between two former Duke teammates at striker with Ebobisse and the ‘Caps Brian White.
During his three-year tenure in MLS, Quakes head coach Matias Almeyda has long been known to set up his team in a unique man marking system, which means every player on the pitch always marks their man when defending the opposition.
Almeyda’s system has proven to be quite successful at times this season, especially high up the field.
Thanks to their unique defensive system and some relentless high press, the Quakes have created plenty of turnovers for opposing teams which in turn have led to goal scoring opportunities on the counter.
In total, San Jose have tallied four goals from counter-attacking situations this season, along with another three goals from forcing opposing backlines into costly turnovers and mistakes.
As they’ve done in recent weeks, the ‘Caps will need to continue moving the ball around quickly and efficiently up the field to prevent San Jose from putting them in bad spots to force turnovers.
It’s sure to be a feisty one this Friday, August 13 at PayPal Park in San Jose, California. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. You can catch the match live on TSN1 and AM730, with the pre-game shows starting at 7 p.m. (TV) and 6:30 p.m. (radio). All times in PT.