SAN JOSE, Calif. — After going four straight games without a win, it was no surprise the San Jose Earthquakes were amped up to host the last-place Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday night. And, wow, did they take out their frustrations on the hapless, ‘Caps in a dominating 3-1 win at Avaya Stadium in front of 17,458 appreciative fans.
The Quakes attempted 43 shots in the game, breaking the previous Major League Soccer record of 38 set by the 1998 MetroStars. By comparison, the Whitecaps only had 5, meaning the shot differential itself matched the record. Overall, the game stats heavily favored San Jose in virtually every category.
The win kept the Earthquakes on pace with the other Western Conference postseason hopefuls, and they now sit in sixth place, four points above the playoffs line. Looking above them in the table, the Quakes are only two points out of second place — five teams currently reside in that narrow range, all looking to finish in the top four and earning a first round home playoff game.
San Jose has seven games left on its schedule, including away games at NYCFC and last year’s two MLS Cup Final participants, Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers. The Quakes welcome Orlando City to Avaya Stadium next weekend in an important game for both sides, but it will be crucial for the hosts to extend their winning streak to keep their playoffs hopes alive.
No Almeyda, no problema
San Jose head coach Matias Almeyda was suspended for the game following his outburst that earned him an ejection in last Wednesday’s 4-0 loss at LAFC, so the rest of his coaching staff stepped up in his place. Assistant Omar Zarif officially acted as head coach, while Benjamin Galindo played a crucial role as well. In deference to their leader, both men declined to speak to the media following the game.
“I apologize for being unable to respond to the question you just asked,” Zarif said. “I want to share that it is very bizarre not to have Matias present here. It’s very strange for us, it’s very strange for the club, for the players not having Matias participating in the match. We are very sorry, we apologize on behalf the staff. It would be good to speak with the players; they were the true protagonists. The players will respond to all your questions.”
Indeed, it is the players that play the game, but it has been the Earthquakes coaching staff, in its entirety, that has steered the team back to respectability after a failed 2018 campaign. Almeyda gets most of the credit, but his assistants have been equally vital in San Jose’s resurrection as a playoffs-caliber team.
“I think it was a big example of our character,” midfielder Shea Salinas said. “We have a bunch of leaders on this team. Every single guy steps out there and make sacrifices for their teammates, and it showed tonight, and it was an amazing performance.”
Almeyda’s sideline ban is expected to last one game, so he should be back on the sideline when the Quakes take on Orlando this weekend.
More records than a record store
The Quakes record-setting 43 shot attempts is impressive, but it was the Whitecaps strategy of sitting back and trying to hit on the counterattack that invited the constant pressure from San Jose. Still, it takes talent to create that many opportunities, and the Earthquakes win was well deserved. A lingering concern, though, is that with all those shots, they only won 3-1.
“We needed to be a little more clinical,” said Chris Wondolowski, who scored the game winning goal, the 44th of his MLS career. “I think that’s kind of been our bug even in those games prior. We’ve been creating chances and we have to finish them. We have to be deadly out there, just have that killer instinct and be able to put teams away maybe a little bit earlier. But when you’re not creating chances, that’s when you really have to worry and start changing things. So, I think right now, we’re on the right path. Hopefully it kind of snowballs, hopefully it keeps getting better and we end up going on a hot streak at the right time.”
Vancouver was a goal away from getting a result for the majority of the match, and the fans’ nervousness was palpable. It wasn’t until Andres Rios scored in the 73rd minute that the Earthquakes could feel comfortable coasting the rest of the way to a victory.
“I’m very happy, happy with the goal, happy with the win,” Rios said. “When we are playing here at home, we know the fans are coming to see us win.”
Max at a maximum
On the receiving end of all those shots, at least the 19 that were on target, was Whitecaps goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, and the Canadian international was magnificent. He set his own MLS record on the night, earning 16 saves, bettering the mark set by legend Tony Meola back in 1997. It’s likely he would have asked for an easier evening going into the game, and his coach wasn’t in the mood to celebrate his standout effort.
“I don’t want to talk much about individuals,” Marc Dos Santos said. “We shouldn’t talk about Max’s saves. The highlight of the game is that we played a team that deserved to win.”
In addition to the record shot attempt differential, the Earthquakes also dominated in possession, taking 899 touches and attempting 710 passes to the Whitecaps’ 443 touches and 236 passes. The one-way traffic lead the Vancouver coach to a simple conclusion.
“Overall they were the better team,” Dos Santos said. “They won every one-v-one, they were more intense in their game, created a lot of chances.”
For Crepeau, it will be a night to remember as well as a night to forget, but one thing is certain. Crepeau is quickly becoming battle tested on a weak Whitecaps team, and he is steadily moving up the ranks of the best ‘keepers in MLS.