Vancouver is really good this year. Will they win the MLS Cup? No. Not a chance, but they are going to make it pretty damn hard on the sides trying to get there. Maybe because they are right next door we know a little more about them. And if you don't know enough about our neighbors up North, get ready because this is game one of four in the next couple months against the Canadian side.
These buggers are pretty streaky. Four of their 11 wins have come in singles (including last weekend's), while the other seven are part of three- and four-game winning streaks. Good news: after final wins in a streak/single they have lost four times and drew the remaining match. This means Carl Robinson is telling his squad to lose to keep that up, I hope.
Last time out, they crushed the Aftershocks 3-1 with a full complement of players and a rejuvenated Mauro Rosales. They will not have the former Sounders and MLS Team of the Weeker due to an injury. This may or may not be a challenge for the 'Caps, depending on Pedro Morales' status.
With all this being said, the Sounders figured it out against Vancouver last time, beating the 'Caps 2-0 in Vancouver. The Rave Green were without Obafemi Martins that time but Clint Dempsey and Chad Barrett looked just as nice as Clintfemi and showcased how exactly you beat the 'Caps: shutdown their young wingers and play the long ball.
Carl Robinson's side is a master of counter-attacking football. There may not need to be any other paragraphs in this report because this is all they do. Stop attacks, long balls, and speed. They have track-star caliber wingers, strong CMs, and bruising CBs.
Whether you like them or not, this is what they do and they make a living out of it. The official stats say three of their 27 goals this year are from counter-attacks, and while 11% seems small, remember that almost every counter attack goal gets counted as open play by Opta and others. They lead the league in them, so if anything, the stats lend credence to being a great puppet to prove my point.
Vancouver really does not change their attack; they will always try to counter. If they can't, if they are forced into possession, they make errors and lots of them. Or they try the long ball anyway and just make the wingers run, trying to replicate it.
Kekuta Manneh has been the sole speed demon the past couple of weeks with Mauro having his brilliant run of form. Manneh has burned the Sounders before, and he will not be afraid to do it again. In the first meeting, though, he ran into a brick wall named Mears and was somewhere between not effective and invisible. He always presents a threat and has grown as a player. No longer will Manneh just boot it and chase, he knows how to use possession to be dangerous.
On the other flank recently has been Mauro, and we know his speed is well...non-existent. But with his injury, he will not be here this week or in the CCL game. There is a plethora of options, with Nicolas Mezquida and Pedro Morales being the CM/RM combo that Jon from 86 Forever picked in the 3 Questions. I'm guessing no matter Morales' injury status, we see him start on the bench and come on if needed and then he'll start Wednesday in the CCL. This weekend, I'd say we see Mezquida starting in center again with Russell Teibert or Erik Hurtado starting on the wing opposite of Manneh. Both of these players provide speed more than attacking prowess. Teibert is more physical than Hurtado, but Hurtado is more of an out-and-out attacking winger similar to your RW in a fast 4-3-3. Whichever route they go, if Morales is not on the field, will lack a player with service and that can manage possession. But on the road, the 'Caps will be okay with that.
Seattle is actually pretty quick. While Tyrone Mears does not have DeAndre Yedlin's speed, he is smart and knows how to manage a player with speed. He rarely gets burned and even more ratley more than once by a player. On the other side, Dylan Remick will start with Leo Gonzalez injured. Remick may not be quite as sound defensively, but he's got plenty of speed and is one of the fastest players on the team.
Defensive Midfield Duo-
Gershon Koffie and Matias Laba are both great players that I think the Sounders should be trying to steal, quite frankly. The 'Caps' counter only works if the CMs can break up possession. Most teams try to control the match against Vancouver, and it does not work. The Sounders' chances of winning the midfield with these two on the field is considerably more difficult. This is not to say the Sounders should not use possession tactics, they have worked before, but to do it you need to look more like we did against them and New York City with long spells of presumably pointless passing around Alonso, Evans, and (insert winger's name here).
Laba is an above average distributor and a bulldog. He'll fight and scrap to get the ball. He is their Ozzie, and is even a little better distributor than we've seen this year from Honey Badger — and he's less likely to chase 40 yards to win a tackle. Koffie is going to draw cards and knock players down. He's going to take it and smile like Zach Scott. He gets his job done, gets the ball, and gets it to someone who can do something with it. He leads the team in fouls per game and cards per game among starters. Last time, Marco Pappa and Clint Dempsey took the ball from deep or the wings and charged into the middle. Koffie will foul at that point, and that's how you beat the duo. If you try to pass through it, it'll be a long day for the backline chasing Rivero and Manneh.
This has taken multiple different looks this year with 1st/2nd year players Christian Dean and Tim Parker playing as CBs (or as LBs). Pa Modou Kah has been the veteran suiting up next to Kendall Waston for most the year. Waston is like Chad Marshall in that he is good in the air and makes the players around him better, a lot better. He is a calming presence in the backline and organizes his squad nicely. The difference between him and Marshall is that while Marshall is calm and rarely fouls, Waston fouls like Scott. The fact he doesn't get sent off more shows just how good he is at fouling to avoid all the cards he should likely have. His partners have either been young or stupid.
The young ones are good players, Dean and Parker (Dean has been used more at FB lately). At least one of them is likely to be a starter next year. They'll get beat by good players, like Dempsey, because they are still learning, but they are some of the best young CBs in the league. Meanwhile, the stupid. Okay, so Kah is not stupid, but he fouls like he thinks yellow cards are a good thing. He gets aggravated easily. He makes mistakes like Starbucks sells coffee. He is slow going side to side and not much better going up and down the pitch. Waston has to control his partners, and for the most part he has, but it will be a tough if Deuce is playing. Kah and Deuce do not get along from his time at Portland. Taking advantage of Kah's fouling in dangerous areas is a must in this one.
Before you think I just have it out for them because they are our rival, in 22 games they have 52 yellows and three reds. They average about 2.5 cards a game (combined colors). They will commit fouls, they will pick up cards, and we need to convert.
Who to Watch-
1. Octavio Rivero- He's the team leader with eight goals and is a contender for MLS Newcomer of the Year. He is clinical in front of goal. The good news is he favors his right and not by a little bit. He has six goals from the right, one from the left, and one from his noggin. Now, two of those are PKs (three total for the side), so it is really four from the right in regular play. He also has two of his from set pieces. He is a danger no matter how he gets in front of goal, but just like Manneh, the backline shut him down last time. He converted a PK against SJ after not scoring in the last three matches.
2. David Ousted- He is one of the best goalies in MLS right now. He ranks 5th among goalies starting at least half of their side's games in GAA, with 1. Frei is just ahead with .97 a match. He's tied for second with seven shutouts (Kwarasey and Frei with eight). He will be tough to beat, but he does have a bit of a streak, They have few single goal games, if they give up goals, they give up multiples.
3. Nicolas Mezquida- He makes this list not for being an impact player, but because he HAS to be one this week. The past couple of games he's started as the CAM in the role of Pedro Morales. Mauro Rosales has taken over the play-maker duties from the right wing, but without him — and even if Morales plays (he'll be hurting) — Mezquida will be the one in charge of the attack. The 23-year-old Uruguayan has never been given the keys to the attack, always playing second fiddle to Morales or Rosales. But Saturday night, he'll be in charge. He is a big mystery and how he will handle the pressure in a rival match on the road will be crucial. If he stands up and plays his heart out, the 'Caps may have a new weapon. If he crumbles, the Sounders will walk all over them.
How to Exploit Them-
The midfield will not be permeable when it comes to passing through it. It will take the long ball and by passing the midfield to win this one. It worked last time and it'll work again. Let Dempsey run the attack however he wants and goals will follow. The CB/CDM quartet is foul and card prone, use it to our advantage. Get 'em fouling, get 'em falling, and get after 'em.
Outside of the Rosales and Morales injuries only Sam Adekugbe has been nursing an injury. Expect Christian Dean to start out at LB again and for a lot young players to be on the field. It'll be all counter attack and all speed from these guys, and the Sounders need to punch back with the long ball every time it is there, stretch 'em.
I differ from Dave's 3 Questions answer on lineups and with injury updates I'm going to throw one on here for the Sounders as well. I think we see a return of Barrett after how successful he and Dempsey were in Vancouver last time. Lamar Neagle returns to the bench with Barrett up top and Thomas getting the run out at left mid. I also brought back the 4-4-2 but it'll likely play like a 4-3-3 still.