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Scouting Report: Calming the Vancouver Whitecaps

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The Sounders need pay no heed to small craft advisories and will take their superyacht up to BC Place.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Ozzie says you can’t have the ball until you think about what you’ve done
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Who You’ll Watch

The first Cascadia Cup match of the year has the Seattle Sounders traveling north to face the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Sounders won two of their three games against the Whitecaps last year, winning one at home and on the road and lost the first encounter of 2016 on some dubious penalty calls at the CLink.

Seattle is coming off a 1-1 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes after Chris Wondolowski's 90th minute goal. Vancouver was whited out 3-0 by Real Salt Lake in a snow storm. Seattle is currently in seventh place in the West, while Vancouver is in tenth. This will be the first time we will see Fredy Montero in another color besides Rave Green in MLS play.

Brad Evans (calf muscle strain), Aaron Kovar (groin surgery) and Roman Torres (hamstring) will all more than likely be out for this game. There is an outside chance that Evans could play, as he has been seen practicing with the team.

The Whitecaps have five players listed as out -- Brett Levis (ACL tear), Yordy Reyna (foot surgery), David Edgar (PCL, MCL tear), Erik Hurtado (left foot contusion) and Brek Shea (left knee sprain).

Vancouver Record: 1-3-1, 10th in West

Top Scorer: Matias Laba, 2 goals

Top Assist leaders: Hurtado, Sheanon Williams, Montero, 1 each

Notable Vancouver roster changes:

Out: Pedro Morales, Blas Perez, Giles Barnes, Kekuta Manneh, Jordan Smith

In: Montero, Sheanon Williams, Shea, Mauro Rosales, Tony Tchani

What to Watch

Squad rotation due to fixture congestion (CONCACAF Champions League) and injuries (see the list above) has resulted in Vancouver playing a variety of formations through their first five matches. Carl Robinson has rolled out a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, and 3-5-2 thus far, with generally poor results from all of them. The 4-2-3-1 would seem to be the preferred option; this week should include Tchani to help shore up the defense and Montero up top to help facilitate the attack.

There certainly are issues: the roster isn’t deep, and with the departure of Pedro Morales the team has struggled to find consistent possession of any kind at all. This is not to say, however, that the offense is not dangerous. Vancouver’s position at the bottom of the Western Conference isn’t an accident to this point, but they’re also certainly better than that and should not be overlooked.

Can Seattle handle the counter? For as long as I can remember, Vancouver has been a quick-hitting offense. From the years of Rosales dropping dimes from the wing, to the time spent hoping Morales would become the next big-time South American playmaker in MLS, they have had a troubled relationship with extended possession. This year Robinson seems to have gone all-in on the counter, eschewing all but the barest minimum of possession - their match against the Galaxy looked more like a track meet than a soccer match (the inclement weather in Rio Tinto last week makes it hard to give any credence to anything that happened there).

The style suits the roster, and the switch at forward from Hurtado to Montero at half added teeth to an otherwise Joe Calzaghe-esque attack (for you non-boxing fans, that’s lots of punches, but nothing with any weight behind it). The threatening attacks came almost exclusively via route one, a directness that succeeded because of a mixture of creative through balls and individual skill.

Two things, in particular, helped with the success in that case, and should be things Seattle can mitigate via a familiar midfield pairing. First, the use of a long air ball plays to the Sounders’ centerback pairing’s strength in positioning, but through balls on the ground provide much better opportunities for Vancouver’s speed to run onto threatening balls, and right around the slower CBs. While the Sounders are a fit team, they are not a fast team. They will need to limit the amount of chasing they have to do on long counters to avoid being run into the ground.

Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan’s reading and cutting off these passes will be critical to limiting the back line’s exposure, and this is something they tend to do well. Second, LA’s midfield was a wreck; even if Crizzie Roldonso has a mediocre game, it certainly won’t be as poor as the Galaxy’s showing.

Can Vancouver protect the wings? The downside to such central-focused direct attack is a decided lack of width when the ball turns over, allowing opponents to bring the ball right back at the Whitecaps’ defense with little resistance. Cristian Techera and Christian Bolanos seem to prefer center-ish positions. Alphonso Davies, for all of his massive potential and skill, still has a tendency to lose the flow and positioning of the game, drifting towards the ball over maintaining spacing.

This leaves Williams and Jordan Harvey to carry much of the wing attack and defense by themselves - unsurprisingly, this is not an easy thing to do, and both LA and RSL exploited this to great effect. The defense in general does not yet seem comfortable with how to play in a 4-2-3-1 setup (given that they’ve run it for a while now in various forms, this is an odd thing to be observing), but the addition of Tony Tchani is a solid upgrade over previous options and should help this as both sides get more comfortable with each other.

For a team like the Sounders, who enjoy using their fullbacks and outside mids as significant contributors to the attack, this is about as good as it gets aside from playing the Red Bulls. To exploit this, however, Joevin Jones will need to show up fully this week, and Oniel Fisher will need to show he can do something more than impersonate early-2016 Tyrone Mears. The potential is there for both of these players to have huge games offensively, and the lack of width means their defensive responsibilities will be reduced.

Expected Lineups:

Vancouver: David Ousted; Williams, Tim Parker, Kendall Waston, Harvey; Laba, Tchani; Davies, Bolanos, Techera; Montero

Seattle: Stefan Frei; Jones, Svensson, Chad Marshall, Fisher; Alonso, Roldan; Harry Shipp, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro; Jordan Morris

How to Watch

Date/Time: Friday, April 14 at 7:00 pm

Venue: BC Place

Television: Q13 FOX

Radio: KIRO 97.3 (English), 1360 El Rey (Spanish)