In the 69th minute of Seattle's win over Vancouver on Saturday, Clint Dempsey launched a shot on goal from near the halfway line that didn't have a chance of landing in the back of the net. David Ousted wasn't egregiously beyond his line (though he did choose a somewhat melodramatic dive to his right to claim Dempsey's bounce), the ball was on-target but lacked pace by the time it reached the keeper. Dempsey didn't expect to score when he hit the ball... he made the judgment that he was outnumbered by the Whitecaps defense, only had a moderate amount of space on the ball, and didn't have any support in attack from his own team. Attempting a prayerful ball from midfield didn't decrease the Sounders' chances of scoring at the time, but carried a side-benefit of alleviating the near-constant pressure Vancouver had been applying since halftime.
The Whitecaps were down by a goal after the half. Between the half and the 70th minute, 42% of the passes by either team took place in Seattle's defensive third (13% in the opposite third). Vancouver attempted 7 shots to Seattle's (and Dempsey's) 1. Finally, in the 70th minute, interplay between Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Nelson Haedo Valdez and Gonzalo Pineda gave Pineda an open look at the top of the box. Pineda finished it off the post, and Vancouver never again threatened to draw even.
Dempsey's little 69th minute prayer is one of very few circumstances where shooting has some reasonable motivation other than scoring. Playing from behind should certainly change the urgency of a goal... but shooting from greater distance almost always results in weaker chances. However, between the 46th and 70th minutes, the Whitecaps' shots looked like this:
That's 5 of 7 from outside the box. The 2 exceptions were taken by defender Kendall Waston. Back in May, I commented on Vancouver's wasteful shooting and praised Seattle's defense: "It is very difficult to prevent an opponent from taking bad shots, and still harder to do so when playing conservatively." Saturday's defensive performance was weaker...
This game state chart measures several metrics in 10-minute windows measured at 5-minute intervals over Saturday's game, reflecting the substantial change in team performance (Seattle in blue diamonds, Vancouver in red squares) after each of the first two goals.
In May's road win, Seattle took its lead earlier and maintained a possession advantage throughout the game. On Saturday, the midfield tried but failed to connect passes and work out of the defensive third (until Pineda's strike). Vancouver dominated chances and possession. An increase in the Sounders' defensive actions and clearance bias (clearances/total defensive actions) reflects desperation defending after the half. Nevertheless, the Whitecaps gratifyingly chose weak chances over retaining attacking possession around the box- building up a major advantage in shots while playing from behind, and ending up with nothing to show for it.
Seattle's backline did a strong job of deflecting Whitecaps crosses. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei had an outstanding game claiming long service into the box, solidly stopping long shots and smothering a couple clear chances inside the 18... but Vancouver's own self-defeating approach also played a role in the shutout.
Chalkboard chart modified from mlssoccer.com. Raw stats for this work were gathered from OPTA via whoscored.com.