The battle for the Cascadia Cup is as tight as ever. The Timbers have the early lead, but the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders FC are better teams and in a points tie for the third spot in the West. Saturday's 1 PM match isn't just for key points in the trivalry contest, but has implications for the Playoff hunt. It also features a team that is one of the worst on the road (-8 goal differential) and one of the best at home (+9 goal differential).
While the Sounders added two players and lost one, Vancouver is a team that is much changed from where it was during the road draw earlier in the season. The style of play has not changed though, as Ben from 86 Forever tells us in Three Questions.
SaH: The Whitecaps were a good team before all the player movement and after it, what are the primary differences in how the team plays now?
SaH: For all of the jokes about Rennie wanting every forward or attacking mid the backbone of the team seems to be the defense. Is there a key player defensively?
86er: In terms of style the team hasn't changed too much; they still play a high attacking line with lots of fluidity and check back to put five men in midfield with a lone striker defending. The addition of Dane Richards means the team is capable of more attacking play from out wide, which might have been the biggest improvement (but only a change in the sense that, earlier, they were trying to play out wide and failing).
These Whitecaps are somewhat more fluid, with the players in the top five rotating fairly freely through positions as necessary. But there is less audacious passing, fewer clever quick plays of the like that brought Darren Mattocks his early goals: these Whitecaps just aren't familiar with each other yet. You can particularly see this in Barry Robson, who wants to hold the ball up and be a playmaker but isn't quite sure what plays to make yet.
86er: Rennie seems to like letting his horses run in home games but playing things tighter on the road; that's not just my opinion, that's what he actually says. Entertainment and all that. So if I were a Sounders fan I might not visit CenturyLink expecting an LA Galaxy-style shootout. I would, however, keep my eye on Jun Marques Davidson. The defensive midfielder is a former Carolina Railhawk and has been basically omnipresent since joining the Whitecaps earlier this year; his ability to slot into that defensive role, to hold the ball up, and to play a simple but effective game controlling the centre of midfield has been responsible for a lot of Vancouver's defensive success.
SaH: Of the new additions which one has you the most excited?
86er: Based on his pedigree, Barry Robson. He hasn't exactly torn the league apart yet but he's played well, well enough to stifle most concerns, and his passion and energy is a welcome counterbalance on a team that is sometimes too quiet. He's still in the stage where he gets wound up by MLS refereeing and the ideosyncratic play in this league; hopefully he gets over it but for now his heat is great to watch.
But for someone who's getting me excited based on the way he's played? Certainly Dane Richards. He didn't come from the New York Red Bulls with a tonne of hype, and you'd think he'd be a known quantity after years patrolling up and down the wing of a pretty good attacking team. But with Vancouver? Oh my god! He's been like a burst of lightning up the wing the Whitecaps haven't enjoyed since Martin Nash's heyday, and perhaps what hurt the Whitecaps most in their desultory Wednesday loss was not having Richards's unpredictability and power to spread the field.
It's hard to say as we don't yet know Jay DeMerit's status for Saturday. With a concussion he suffered against Real Salt Lake still bothering him, I'd expect (and sort of hope) he's out but there's just a chance that, with Martin Bonjour suspended, Martin Rennie may rush him back. I'm going to proceed on the assumption that he will miss another game recovering.
Seattle's expected lineup was listed earlier this week. There is no reverse.
By the way - Saturday's game temps are only supposed to be right at 80 degrees with sun. So it won't be the hottest game in the history of the MLS Sounders, but still hot.