This one is for all the marbles friends, the Cascadia Cup is still up for grabs, playoff positioning, and confidence heading into a decisive final CONCACAF Champions League game for the Sounders (Wednesday against the same set of water features). Back at the end of July we covered the Vancouver style with "Counter-attacking for dummies," a comprehensive look at what makes Vancouver tick. So far, nothing has changed. They love to counter with a nearly perfect mix of speed and deft passing by crafty veterans (the rhyming Morales and Rosales). Vancouver does all this with a bruising backline to boot. So what is different about this game? For starters, no Matias Laba.
If you look at Vancouver's play this year, they need to control the midfield. Atypical of a counter attacking squad, which typically love wing play and long balls, Vancouver needs to win the midfield on both offense and defense. Laba is the main reason they are able to do it. Laba is the 'Caps Ozzie, but with a little less street fighter in his tackles and potentially better passing (Ozzie when he's on is a better distributor). WIthout Laba last week against Colorado, the 'Caps threw Pedro Morales in Laba's role and put Mauro Rosales (I'm pretty sure he's a Sounders spy) in as the #10. This means the defense is not speedy nor do they have two strong tacklers. Let me put it to you this way, Michael Azira is a better defensive mid partner than Morales. This will leave a major gash in the midfield, if they go this way (they will).
They will be a major attacking force as most of the time they'll look more like a 4-1-4-1 as opposed to their traditional 4-2-3-1. They feature young wingers with Techera, Manneh, and Hurtado all available for selection. In either case they'll likely feature Cristian Techera, the young center mid who Carl Robinson loves to play out wide. The decision will between Manneh or Hurtado, in either case they play a lot like Neagle where they are poor options as a lone striker or a target striker but they are good options as a speedy winger who can play as the third/fourth option in the attack and mid-level crossing ability.
Other than that, the defense should be essentially the same group that we've seen them play for the whole season. Watson, Kah, Harvey, and Beitashour who has built up quite a bit of chemistry. Without Laba though, Koffie is going to forced into more tackles and therefore a high likelihood of yellows. Morales, already gets a high amount of yellows for a #10, is almost a lock to pick one up as well trying to track Oba/Deuce when they come into the midfield. This means that Watson and Kah will have to do a lot of the leg work for this defense and with a full-strength offense for the Sounders, it could get a little ugly. They'll likely bend but not break entirely but it will put them on the defensive the entire night, forcing Octavio Rivero to beat the Sounders alone, something against Evans and Marshall he will not be able to do.
Lastly, the final concern. Set pieces. The Sounders look like Swiss cheese against them and have a lot of holes. The 'Caps are really good at them. If the Sounders can not give them and survive corners, they'll walk away without their goal threatened and move on through this battle with the Cascadia Cup, three points (in a six-point swing), and confidence that they can take out the 'Caps again on Wednesday as they try to lock up the group stage in the CCL.
Both projected lineups appear below. The Sounders in a traditional 4-4-2 and the 'Caps in a 4-1-4-1. While the pregame graphics will show a 4-2-3-1, I'm sure, it'll play like a 4-1-4-1 all night. Sounders win this thing in a stunning, nervy, beautiful fashion 3-1, giving up a...set piece goal.