Stingy defence aims to thwart MLS top scorer
The last time Major League Soccer’s hottest team came to Vancouver they left B.C. Place 3-1 winners over the Whitecaps.
That was Eastern Conference-leading Kansas City two weeks ago.
This time it’s the best in the West, San Jose, who’ll arrive in town riding high and scoring goals for fun.
Frank Yallop’s side defeated D.C. 5-3 on Wednesday to improve to 7-1-1. They lead MLS with 20 goals in nine games.
Coincidentally, the Caps also lost 3-1 to San Jose a month ago, so they have a couple of points to prove on Saturday.
“It’s the second time now we’ve had the top team here and it’s a great challenge,” said Caps midfielder John Thorrington. “We’ve won three games in a row, they’re flying high, full of confidence, so let’s see whether we’re up to the task.
“And the way we gave up goals against them down there, there’s a bitter taste in our mouths when we think about it and we’d like to rectify that on Saturday.”
The first hour in San Jose was the best spell all season for Martin Rennie’s Whitecaps.
They led 1-0 on Sebastien Le Toux’s early second-half goal, looked confident and in control and were pressing for more.
Then the wheels fell off in the most disconcerting 10 minutes of the season.
Mistakes and poor marking opened the door for Chris Wondolowski to score twice, and the opportunistic forward now has a league-leading 10 goals after a double against D.C.
Thorrington struck the crossbar in the game in San Jose and also had a legitimate penalty appeal denied with the score still 1-0. But that night will be remembered for an Mls-record shutout streak suddenly imploding, not for missed chances.
Since those back-to-back leaky losses, the Whitecaps have returned to their miserly roots: Three wins and three clean sheets, albeit one against second-division Edmonton in Wednesday’s Canadian championship semifinal.
The Caps have blanked opponents in seven of nine games so far and Rennie will have his top back four available for the first time in seven games as Alain Rochat has recovered from a knee strain.
Rennie will also hope to have Camilo back. A quadriceps injury has limited the Brazilian forward to four starts and they’ve missed his spark, his scoring and set-piece deliveries.
Thorrington was asked about the impact of Rochat’s return and he immediately brought up a breathtaking pass the Swiss-canadian defender had launched and dropped at Eric Hassli’s feet in Edmonton.
“Certainly, that [skill] makes a difference,” he said.
Thorrington played his best game of the season in Edmonton.
With Rennie’s go-to holding midfielder, Jun Marques Davidson, resting in Vancouver, Thorrington anchored a midfield that included Gershon Koffie and Davide Chiumiento.
But Thorrington, a 32-year-old from Palos Verdes, Calif., was upstaged by a man-of-thematch performance from Omar Salgado, and Thorrington was fine with that.
“Yeah, give it to him, he’s 18, it’s good for his confidence,” he quipped.
“I just don’t think people understand how difficult it is to leave home and how all that off-field stuff can get in your head.
“He’s excused for last year, and now you’re seeing a totally different player and person.”
Wednesday’s win was Thorrington’s first 90-minute game of the season. A quadriceps strain has slowed his start but he’s healthy now and Rennie sees him as a leader and one of the club’s better two-way midfielders.
With the Caps in the midst of a hectic schedule, Rennie will shuffle his lineup again for San Jose.
Thorrington says he’s fit enough to play twice in a week if needed, and that’s thanks to Rick Celebrini, the team’s head of sports medicine.
“We see more of each other than we see our wives,” Thorrington said.
“I’ve put myself up for every game, that’s the way I’m wired, but we seem to be having a good run here playing different guys and winning, so that’s good too.”