San Jose Earthquakes vs. Whitecaps Preview: Beware the Trojan Horse

The Trojan horse has taken many forms throughout history, and in the present day, it often takes the form of a soccer club.

With a 2-1 win over LAFC at PayPal Park, the San Jose Earthquakes currently have the longest active unbeaten run in Major League Soccer with 6 games (2 wins and 4 draws). So that should mean their upcoming game at home against 13th place Vancouver Whitecaps is a foregone conclusion, right? They might as well giftwrap 3 points, leave it on the field, and call it a day. Beware of such appearances, as when the Quakes unwrap that Trojan horse, the Whitecaps could come out ready to strike.

The Whitecaps are undefeated in their last 5 games. Since losing 4-0 to Real Salt Lake on July 7, they beat LA Galaxy before drawing with Houston Dynamo, LAFC, Minnesota United, and LA Galaxy in a second fixture. 3 of those draws were scored draws, so while they remain a tough nut to crack, they are also capable of doing damage themselves. Their performances belie their position in the league table.

Since key playmaker Hwang In-Beom left the Vancouver Whitecaps for Rubin Kazan last summer, the Whitecaps appeared to have been defanged. You can also look further back to the sale of Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich. The Whitecaps had no choice but to left potentially the most promising player to ever come out of an MLS Youth Academy move on, but the trend remains: rebuilding the roster to fill these voids has been a tough ask. The challenges continued in 2021 as Fredy Montero’s contract wasn’t renewed and instead he joined his original Cascada side the Seattle Sounders. Personal reasons and factors beyond the club’s control led to the mutual termination of the contracts of two more important players: David Milinkovic and Ali Adnan. These roster moves set the stage for this Trojan horse status.

So who is left on the Whitecaps roster that is threatening?

Since they are a Canadian club, a natural starting point is the Canadians on this roster. In the 23 player Canada Gold Cup squad, 3 Whitecaps players were selected: goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, left back Cristian Gutierrez, and forward Lucas Cavallini. Mexico and United States supporters will remember Crepeau’s inspired performances in goal as Canada nearly beat both teams. Cavallini mostly featured off the bench, but remains a dynamic attacking option for both club and country. Gutierrez may still be uncapped, but his inclusion as Alphonso Davies’s injury replacement is a result of his hard work at club level. Russell Teibert and Tosaint Ricketts were on the preliminary roster.

Elsewhere on this team you have the center back partnership of Erik Godoy and Ranko Veselinovic. Together, they provide a stern challenge for any attacking core. Veselinovic is also a threat in the opposing team’s box, a role Nathan similarly embraces for the Earthquakes. Janio Bikel is a Guinea-Bissau born Portuguese midfielder who can be seen as MLS’s answer to Danilo Pereira, with who he shares his place of birth and style of play. Colombians Deiber Caicedo and Cristian Dajome will prove tough players to mark, while Brian White and new signing Ryan Gauld also could prove to be newer mainstays at BC Place with their abilities.

Let’s not forget Florian Jungwirth, fresh from his transfer from San Jose to Vancouver, will know his old club’s system well enough to provide a counter-strategy.

If the San Jose Earthquakes can take care of business on Friday, that points haul can propel them into a genuine playoff push. That momentum would increase and who knows where it could take them. But it’ll require a focused effort from everyone. Matias Almeyda has to get his tactics and substitutions right, which he mostly has done in the last few games. Cade Cowell has to match his talent with coolness under pressure. Cristian Espinoza must continue to be that offensive spark. Judson, Jackson Yueill, and Eric Remedi need to win their midfield battles. The back 3 led by Nathan and JT Marcinkowski behind them have to be at the top of their game to earn a clean sheet. And maybe some Wondo magic or a contribution from newcomer Jeremy Ebobisse can be the X factor.

The key is not to fall for the Trojan horse, the false sense of security. This season still has a lot more soccer left to be played. Whether you are playing Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver Whitecaps, or LA Galaxy, expect everyone’s best shot as there’s reason for most clubs to still believe they can make the playoffs.