As the Vancouver Whitecaps challenge for the Supporters' Shield, they host Seattle Sounders FC. Sigi Schmid returns to the sideline with a chance to bring the Cascadia Cup back to Seattle for the first time since 2011, continue climbing the Western Conference standings and set the stage for a CONCACAF Champions League match next week. This 4 PM Pacific match could shake the West.
SaH: The reduced lineup managed a CCL win, did it offer enough rest for the main starters to challenge the Sounders?
86er: I would think so. The Whitecaps are in a good position health-wise right now (knock on wood), as most of their injury woes came earlier this season. Pedro Morales has been battling some nagging injuries but seems to be back on track now, and that goes for Mauro Rosales as well. Not having to take part in the Wednesday match means a few extra days of rest, and that has to benefit guys that don't get too rest much, like Goal Keeper David Ousted.
SaH: Does the Cascadia Cup matter to the organization at all, or is this game all about Playoff positioning?
86er: Hardware always matters. The Whitecaps' first priority seems to be getting to the post-season, but the team has to know how much the Cascadia Cup means to the fans in Vancouver. I mean, I think everyone in the City wants to see the Whitecaps enter the post-season and go on a serious playoff run, partly because it's a challenge the team has yet to overcome. The Cascadia Cup is still important, but a strong showing in the playoff is what is needed to show the rest of the league this team has arrived.
SaH: About 23 of the 24 under 24 are Whitecaps players. How did is the organization manage to get so much high quality youth while winning games?
86er: Carl Robinson has been a great advocate for the youngsters in Vancouver, working them into as many matches as possible. The most recent example came on Wednesday, when Robinson fielded a mostly youthful lineup, a lineup that ended the match with 5 rookies on the pitch. Besides Robinson's willingness to trust youth, the 'Caps have done a good job in finding not only good talent, but good, young talent. A prime example is 23-year-old Octavio Rivero, a gem Robinson brought to the team this year. If there is one thing this team seems to do well, it's not only discovering talent, but giving them opportunities to succeed.
Projected lineup: Ousted, Beitashour, Waston, Kah, Harvey, Koffie, Laba, Morales, Techera, Rosales, Rivero
86er: Besides Oba, whom would you say is the Sounders' most important player?
SaH: That's kind of tough, because there are two guys who are right at the top of the list with Martins as potentially the most important player on the team. Clint Dempsey is pretty easy to tell. He's got all the talent and rate stats to show that if he played 90% of a season he'd be an MVP candidate right next to Obafemi and that Italian over in Toronto. But he doesn't play the whole season, so he's not on any MVP short list. He'll play this weekend, so that's a high powered attack with Oba, Clint and new DP Nelson Haedo Valdez.
Former DP Osvaldo Alonso is the other. Ozzie makes the defense work. He's a tireless ball winner that destroys counter-attacks. More importantly it is Alonso more than any other player on the Sounders who makes their style of possession work. He is patient and penetrating at the same time. He can tap it back-and-forth with his CM partner lulling the opposition to sleep and then strike like a cobra reaching dozens of yards out to create an attack. About two years ago he developed this passing tree that's just exceptional, prior to that he was a mere destroyer. Now, his creative energy is vital to Seattle.
86er: What's the impact of losing Roman Torres?
SaH: If there is a silver lining to losing the Panamanian center back it is that prior to losing him Seattle's defensive pairing of Brad Evans and Chad Marshall was damn good. When both were on the field they really only laid a single egg. Then the season happened. Summer signaled a downfall for the entire team. There were issues in the attack and in possession and sometimes the defense wasn't good enough ,either. One way to solve that was to get everyone healthy. A controllable way to solve the defense and possession issues was to sign an extraordinary CB who would allow Evans and new signing Erik Friberg to roam the midfield.
Now that great CB is gone. Evans is almost certain to slip back into the defense, at least some of the time. It will be back to pretty damn awesome. The new signings (Friberg, Ivanschitz, Valdez) and the health of Alonso will maintain possession. Roman Torres is probably the most easily replaced of the Ideal XI.
86er: The sSounders haven't lost in three straight. Is this the start of a run up the Western conference standings?
SaH: Yes. When Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins both play, since the 2014 season started, the Sounders are 25-10-6 earning 1.975 points per match. That includes MLS Cup Playoff games. People who thought the Sounders were falling apart ignored that it was their bodies falling apart, not the team. Seattle should finish with 51-54 points while taking some from several quality squads (at Vancouver, at Kansas City, LA, at Houston and hosting Salt Lake). It's a tough schedule, but the team that will be taking the field during the run-in is of higher quality than the one that won the Shield in 2014 or the one that started the year 9-4-2 +12. It's too late to win the Shield. It's probably too late to get a bye in the Playoffs. It's not too late to win the Cascadia Cup, qualify for the CCL knockouts and host a Play-In game.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Fisher, Evans, Marshall, Mears; Ivanschitz, Friberg, Alonso, Valdez; Dempsey, Martins