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Playoffs Scouting Report: Venturing north, beyond the wall

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Sounders must control the Whitecap Kings to return home safely

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Who You’ll Watch

Vancouver Whitecaps FC host Seattle Sounders FC in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals. The series is a two-leg aggregate goal event with away goals being a tie-breaker, unless extra time is forced in leg two.

Vancouver finished third in the West, advancing from the Knockout Round by crushing the San Jose Earthquakes. Seattle finished second in the West because they were better than Vancouver over the entire season.

Carl Robinson is the coach of the Whitecaps. Brian Schmetzer is coach and hype man for the Seattle Sounders. You may also be familiar with the former Sounders on the team — Fredy Montero, Mauro Rosales, and Jordan Harvey. Spencer Richey is from the area and went to the University of Washington.

Current Form

Vancouver

Form: 2-2-1 +2

Top Goal Scorer: Fredy Montero with 13

Top Assist Leaders: Christian Bolanos and Cristian Techera both with 7

Seattle

Form: 3-2-0 +6

Top Goal Scorer: Clint Dempsey with 12

Top Assist Leader: Nicolas Lodeiro with 12

Absences: Injury, international duty, suspension

Vancouver

Matias Laba and David Edgar are both on the Disabled List. They are the only Whitecaps injuries.

Seattle

Clint Dempsey is suspended. Brad Evans will be out for the entirety of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Jordan Morris is out. Osvaldo Alonso, Victor Rodriguez and Gustav Svensson are all listed as questionable.

Referee Assignments

Center: Kevin Stott

AR1 (bench): Jeff Hosking; AR2 (opposite): Kermit Quisenberry

4th: Ricardo Salazar

VAR: Mark Geiger

What to Watch

After a bit of a muddle for the first portion of the year, Vancouver really found its niche as a counter-attacking team. So much did they concede possession that they ultimately tied the 2014 Chivas RIPs for the lowest possession rate (44.1) recorded in league history (tracked back to 2012), and finished with the worst pass completion rate for the season. Laughing in the face of reason, the offense still finished eighth in total goals and - despite taking the fewest shots per match - ended fifth in shots/goal efficiency (Seattle, for comparison, finished 12th and 15th, respectively).

Clearly this team is not historically bad like Chivas was, nor did it survive on a wish and a prayer like the 2016 Colorado Rapids. Generally strong goalkeeping, a solid defensive four, and a good mix of tricks and smarts up top cover up for a relatively weak midfield and a dearth of players capable of supporting a possession game.

In defense there are no tricks, no highly active two-way players, no wild rotations to cover for marauding centerbacks joining the attack. Kendall Waston and Tim Parker are classic CBs, picking off cross after cross to deny service into the box. The outside backs stay much further back than Kelvin Leerdam, Joevin Jones, and Nouhou, only selectively abandoning their responsibilities to join the attack. When they do, it’s typically Marcel de Jong who takes off.

Neither of defensive CMs Aly Ghazal or Tony Tchani are particularly attack-minded, venturing forward slowly to protect against counter-counterattacks. The limited number of players contributing leaves the ’Caps a team nearly devoid of long-term ideas offensively, and wholly unwilling to wait for any kind of build-up support to generate them. They’re a 4x400 relay team in a marathon.

The group of Christian Bolanos, Cristian Techera, Yordy Reyna, and Fredy Montero all technically have positions to play, but much like the amoeba offense of yore in Seattle, these really are more like guidelines. Sell out to stop any particular player or two, and the others are sure to make life difficult.

Put them on their heels: If this sounds familiar, it’s because Vancouver is pretty much exactly the same team they were at the start of the year. Parker and Waston don’t do well when you force them to move north and south on the field. Get them pulled upfield and things fall apart if the ball is moved fast enough.

If there’s one thing this Seattle team generally does well it’s move the ball. The quality and style of that movement may be a bit limited, depending on who ends up being healthy enough, but the roster is talented enough and active enough that it should be fine to hold serve away from home.

The weight will certainly be on the non-Will Bruin players. Those two VWFC CBs are not going to allow a bunch of crosses to just fall in. Goals will need to be created.

Kill the transition phase: this is the biggest key to keeping VWFC off the scoreboard, and the biggest key to coming back with an acceptable scoreline. Vancouver’s successful counterattacks are won in the transition phase. Slow or kill the speed of them, and you leave the attack flailing.

Don’t lose Fredy: Nobody in the league makes teams pay for forgetting the backside space like Fredy. It’s a whole team effort, and it can’t afford to be forgotten.

Expected Lineups

Vancouver: Marinovic; Nerwinski, Waston, Tim Parker, de Jong; Tchani, Ghazal; Bolanos, Reyna, Techera; Montero

Seattle: Frei; Nouhou, Marshall, Torres, Leerdam; Alonso, Roldan; Jones, Lodeiro, Shipp; Bruin

How to Watch

Date/Time: October 29 at 5:30 PM

Venue: BC Place

Television: ESPN and TSN1/4, TVAS2 in Canada

Radio: SoundersFC.com (and their app), El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish)

Streaming: Watch ESPN