Whitecaps FC-Earthquakes Preview

The Vancouver Whitecaps are a win away from clinching a playoff berth, and the San Jose Earthquakes could be one away from jumping back into the top six.

They meet Saturday night in San Jose, and the away side could be the first team in the Western Conference to punch a postseason ticket, though wins haven’t come as frequently in the last six matches.

"They’re fighting for their lives – as we are," Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson told the league’s official website. "Everyone is fighting to get points at this crucial moment of the season so it should be a very exciting game."

The Whitecaps (15-12-3) fell 2-1 at home to New York City FC last Saturday on a controversial penalty in stoppage time. It was their second straight defeat and dropped them to 2-4-0 since a dominant three-game winning streak that included a 10-1 scoring advantage.

They’ve since scored three goals in four games, though Robinson insists the club is keeping a collective level head.

"We’re a good group," Robinson said. "They’re a great bunch of lads in there. There are four games to go. If you would have said at the start of this season we’d be in this position, people would have snapped their hands off. We’re competing with some very good teams in the Western Conference. And we want to be."

There could be some help on the way with Pedro Morales (calf) and Octavio Rivero (Achilles) potentially returning to the starting 11 after being used as substitutes against NYCFC. Steven Beitashour (knee) has also returned to training after missing the last two matches.

Vancouver is two points back of Los Angeles for the top spot in the West with a game in hand, though the Supporters’ Shield isn’t yet the priority. A loss could drop it within three points of seventh place depending on how the rest of the weekend matches go.

San Jose (12-12-7) enters a point back of Portland and two back of Kansas City, who play each other Saturday, though both teams have a game in hand on the Earthquakes.

They took a step in the right direction with Sunday’s 1-0 home win over Salt Lake after gathering two points in a four-match winless streak.

The issue of putting pressure on the back line and goalkeeping to be flawless remains: The Earthquakes haven’t won a game in which they’ve been scored on since June 27 – a 5-7-3 span. The good news for San Jose is it has kept clean sheets in seven of its last 13 home matches.

The team that won the latest won’t be intact against Vancouver. Midfielders Fatai Alashe and Marc Pelosi are on international duty with the United States U-23 team for Olympic qualifiers. Last weekend’s goal scorer, Matias Perez Garcia, is out after being shown a second yellow card against Salt Lake as he celebrated by removing his shirt.

Coach Dominic Kinnear sounds like he won’t resort to shifting other starters around much to deal with the absences.

"You kind of want to not make too many changes," Kinnear said. "You hope to keep the team shape and the team attitude the same, and just say, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re doing here.’ To move guys around, it’s a possibility, but you kind of want to keep guys where they are."

The clubs have split two matches this season with the home team winning each. Vancouver holds a 6-2-5 all-time advantage, though it’s 0-2-4 in San Jose.