The San Jose Earthquakes capped a tumultuous season with a 5-0 first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday. The club notably broke its playoff drought at five years by clinching a knockout round berth in Sunday’s dramatic victory over Minnesota United but such a humiliating exit just three days later demonstrates that they still have much to improve for next season.
The Quakes had hoped that the rejuvenating victory over Minnesota could give them the momentum to surpass the Whitecaps only a week after tying the Cascadia side 1-1, but their familiar road frailty resurfaced with another second-half capitulation. San Jose conceded an astonishing thirty-three goals in ten road matches since Chris Leitch took over in June, and it wasn’t hard to see why as they fell apart again at BC Place.
Although the Quakes held the upper hand throughout most of the first half, Vancouver exploited their familiar defensive weakness on the counter and Fredy Montero’s set-piece header provided the home side a narrow halftime lead. Once Cristian Techera added a second in the fifty-seventh minute, however, the damn broke and the Quakes appeared helpless to prevent three additional goals in the final half hour.
The visitors displayed particularly promising signs in the opening minutes as Chris Wondolowski tested goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic on the turn and Anibal Godoy’s free-kick was turned wide of the post, but Vancouver was able to snatch a goal from a corner kick in the thirty-third minute. Set pieces were a major weakness for the Quakes early in Leitch’s reign, and once again their disorganization cost them dearly.
“I think they beat us where they’re strong, which is set pieces,” said midfielder Shea Salinas. “Three set-piece goals and then the last two were just flying guys forward and they catch us on the counter, which is their other strength. Tonight is a difficult night to swallow. We knew they were good on set pieces and that’s exactly where they beat us. It’s tough to take. It’s tough to end your season like that.”
Leitch made only one change to the lineup that started the last three regular-season games for the Quakes, starting Tommy Thompson in place of the injured Jahmir Hyka. Thompson’s displayed his familiar darting runs through the middle, but his poor distribution often saw attacks fizzle away. Danny Hoesen came close with a blazing free-kick early in the second period but Vancouver won the free-kick battle when Techera curled a lovely effort into the upper ninety from twenty-five yards.
Leitch threw on Marco Ureña out of desperation but Kendall Waston put the match to bed from another poorly defended set piece in the sixty-eighth minute. Nicolas Mezquida then added a fourth on the counter and buried a fifth shortly thereafter. As the Quakes pushed (perhaps too) aggressively to peg one back, Vancouver’s clinical execution forced them into submission.
“Right now, it’s very hard to look at positives, especially when you lose 5-0, but in the next few days it’s something we’re all going to have to do – sit down and look at what went right and what went wrong,” said Salinas. “This year we showed a lot of heart, a lot of fight. We lost some pretty ugly games, but we won and showed a lot of grit in a lot of games as well. Those Open Cup games, that loss in Kansas City, that showed a lot of character. A lot of last-minute goals, that Minnesota game at the very end was something that showed character. So those are things we have to build off of and next year going into the season, we have to use those and remind ourselves of what it takes to win games and remind ourselves how we lost games as well.”