VANCOUVER, B.C. – Don’t switch off.
It’s a lesson the Vancouver Whitecaps are hoping sticks in the back of their minds Saturday when they host the San Jose Earthquakes at BC Place (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
They learned the hard way last time these teams met on April 7. In that match, the ‘Caps had a 1-0 lead with a little more than 20 minutes to play at Buck Shaw Stadium before a 10-minute meltdown – during which Chris Wondolowski scored a brace – swiftly turned a potential victory into a loss.
HIGHLIGHTS: Caps' lead slips away vs. SJ
“For us, it’s just about concentration,” captain Jay DeMerit told MLSsoccer.com after training at BC Place on Friday. “We showed against them for 70 minutes we can keep them scoreless, so we need to do that for 90 tomorrow.”
With one of the most potent strike duos in Major League Soccer in league-leading scorer Wondolowski and the red-hot Steven Lenhart coming to Vancouver, even a focused defense will be challenged.
Wondolowski’s 10 goals in nine games account for half his team’s production, which has the Quakes atop the Western Conference standings with 22 points, while Lenhart has been in electric form, scoring back-to-back braces against the Philadelphia Union and D.C. United.
Lenhart’s physical presence and tenacity make him particularly memorable for those defenders who play against him.
“He’s hard to defend,” DeMerit said of the Southern Californian. “Any player that’s going to be a big, physical presence is going to give you a tough day. You don’t want to wrestle with people for 90 minutes, but that’s what he likes to do, so in those situations, that’s what you have to do. You have to compete with him and you have to make sure you affect his first touch.
“In times where he gets touches on the ball, then Wondo moves really well off of him. If we can negate those two, that’ll give ourselves a good chance.”
DeMerit, along with a number of senior players, was left behind in Vancouver to recharge during the club’s 2-0 midweek Amway Canadian Championship victory at FC Edmonton, meaning there should be an extra spring in the step.
“It’s great,” the 32-year-old said. “Any time you get a chance to rest your body with games coming thick and fast, it’s good for all of us. There’s a lot of guys in the squad that got a much needed break because we’ve been playing a lot of games so far this season, but it’s a squad game. Everyone knows that, and the squad played well the other day.
“Credit to those guys, to create competition, because overall that makes us a better team.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.