MLS Knockout Round: High-flying Quakes take on floundering Whitecaps

About 70 hours after a stunning, stoppage-time goal by Marco Urena edged San Jose into the playoffs as the sixth Western Conference seed, the Quakes take on the team that led the West heading into the final day of the regular season.
On Sunday, San Jose downed Minnesota United, 3-2, and Vancouver lost to Portland, 2-1, to set up this abrupt turnaround game with the entire season boiled down to one game Wednesday at B.C. Place (UniMas, 10:30 p.m. ET). As the third seed, the ‘Caps are favored but they haven’t beaten the Quakes in more than two years, since a 3-1 home win in July 2015.

Since then, the Quakes have won twice and there have been three ties, including a 1-1 battle less than two weeks ago at B.C. Place. San Jose outshot Vancouver, 19-15, and controlled 59.1 percent of possession. Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili equalized in the 77th minute to match a ‘Caps goal by Yordy Reyna that had it stood up would have clinched top seed in the conference.

'Caps mired in scoring slump. Instead, Vancouver slogs into the Knockout Round mired in a scoring slump; it is 1-3-1 in its last five games while bagging just three goals. The Quakes hit the playoffs on the bounce; they grabbed seven points in their last three games by beating the Timbers, 2-1, at home, getting the point at B.C. Place, and outlasting the Loons despite squandering a pair of one-goal leads.

Fredy Montero tops the ‘Caps with 13 goals but hasn’t scored in his last four appearances. When he does score, Vancouver is 7-1-3. He came on as a sub Sunday against the Timbers with the ‘Caps trailing, 2-1. Defender Kendall Waston headed home a Reyna corner kick for a 1-0 first-half lead but Portland equalized a few minutes later and got its winner early in the second half.

At least the ‘Caps can field Montero, Reyna and Cristian Techera as a unit. Injuries and absences have allowed head coach Paul Robinson only six opportunities to line them up together; when he does, Vancouver is unbeaten.

Leitch's maintenance job. For San Jose, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2012 gives them house money to play with in some regards. But management has not said if interim head coach Chris Leitch will get the job permanently, and the players know that a squad that was revamped last winter could be shaken up again.

Even as the home team, Vancouver likes to attack in transition and the Quakes do not always convert efficiently from offense to defense. But San Jose’s balanced attack -- Chris Wondolowski led the team with 13 goals, Urena and Danny Hoesen and Vako each have five -- enables Leitch to give the front line several different looks, which adds another headache for Robinson, who has used July signing Stefan Marinovic in place of regular keeper David Ousted to midding effect.

In effect, Leitch did a maintenance job more than a remodeling. His record of 7-8-2 generated exactly the same number of points (23) in the same number of games (17) as did Kinnear, who was fired with the team’s record at 6-6-5. San Jose didn’t so much surge into the playoffs as FC Dallas, with a meager 12 points in its last 15 games, fell out of them. But the postseason knows no history.

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