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Scouting Report: Melting the Vancouver Whitecaps

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Or, how to calve the glaciers and put icebergs in the Salish Sea.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Who You’ll Watch

The Seattle Sounders hit the road for a midweek clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps. It’s the second of three games this season against Vancouver, and their final away trip to BC this season (barring playoffs).

The Whitecaps currently sit in the sixth and final playoff spot (34 points in 23 games played; 1.48 ppg), while the Sounders sit at the top of the west (40 points in 25 games played; 1.6 ppg). Vancouver won 2-1 the last time out, when they faced the Houston Dynamo. The Sounders defeated Minnesota United FC, also by a scoreline of 2-1, with a last-second penalty.

In regards to the Cascadia Cup standings, the Sounders currently sit in second (four points in three games played; 1.25 ppg) and the Whitecaps sit in last (three points in three games played; 1.00 ppg). A win by the Sounders will see them tied with the Portland Timbers (seven points in four games played; 1.75 ppg).

Current Form

Vancouver

Form: L-W-D-L-W with nine goals scored, six conceded

Top Scorer: Fredy Montero, 10 goals

Top Assist Leader: Christian Bolanos, seven assists

Sounders

Form: W-D-W-W-W with 10 goals scored, one conceded

Top Scorer: Clint Dempsey, 11 goals

Top Assist Leader: Joevin Jones, 10 assists

Absences: Injury, international duty, suspension

Vancouver: It’s a pretty small injury list for the Whitecaps, but an important one. David Edgar (PCL, MCL tear) and Matias Laba (torn ACL 8/12) are both listed as out per MLS’ injury report.

Seattle: The lone Sounders player on the injury report is Brad Evans (lower back pain) and he is listed as out.

What to Watch

We first saw Vancouver back in April, and similar to our beloved Sounders, the team then was very different from the team now. Head coach Carl Robinson has settled back into his familiar 4-2-3-1 as the roster has healed up, and the return of Yordy Reyna from a vicious stomp by a Timbers player in preseason has given him the creative central attacker they’ve been missing. This has allowed Montero to stop dropping deep to find the ball, and subsequently allowed him to successfully float into space in the box as he loves to do. He’s not been flashy in his production, but he’s been just about the only goal-scoring threat they’ve had for most of the season.

The league’s worst possessing team (averaging just 45.3 percent) has started to come out ahead that particular statistical category recently. They’re definitely not a possess-for-defense team, but they’re also no longer solely a bunker-counter team, either. They remain focused on pushing the ball, but are willing to slow down (even if only slightly) to allow play to develop. Reyna’s dynamism is a good partner with Montero’s cerebral play, but the offense still struggles with getting all its components working together.

The recent loss of Laba was a big blow to a team that’s fighting for one of the last playoff spots. His partnership with Tony Tchani has been key in them maintaining that position. Unfortunately, while the backups are serviceable, they’re nowhere near the same quality. Rookie right back Jake Nerwinski has been a good get, and provides both good attacking balance and decent service from the right side. Of course, he hasn’t come up against an opposing left back like Joevin Jones yet. Who is able to push whom back the most, and take advantage of space when the other is forward, will be a key battle.

Centerback partners Kendall Waston and Tim Parker do a decent-to-good job, and Jordan Harvey is solid at left back. They give up the third-most shots per game, and in the best evidence of their lack of defensive cohesion, are .1 clearances per game behind league leaders Minnesota (a whopping 24.3/game, to be exact). The lack of calm starts to counters is indicative of how the defense often only temporarily relieves pressure. Seattle’s midfield is hopefully up to the task of collecting these first and second balls and re-initiating intentional attacks.

Defend the wings - Three teams in the league average 20+ crosses per match this season. Two of them will be playing each other in BC Place. Reyna’s addition hasn’t shifted the focus of the team drastically - he roams often and regularly picks the ball up outside prior to cutting in. Nerwinski and Harvey’s attacking runs are solid as well, allowing the outsides of the band of three to occupy the channels and find the awkward space just inside wide-set CBs.

With as important as the OBs are to the Sounders’ attack, this is very much a whole-team defensive effort. Gustav Svensson and Cristian Roldan will have to provide wide support to allow this contribution to bear fruit.

Limit set pieces - Vancouver may not excel in the run of play, but their set pieces are second to none in the league (a leading 13 goals from set pieces). They possess a number of quality service and shot options no matter the lineup on the field.

Here, in particular, is where Seattle can’t afford to lose Montero. We saw for years his ability to find back-side space on free kicks, and that skill remains as strong as ever. At the same time Cristian Techera, Montero, Reyna, and Mezquida all hit a solid free kick shot. Seattle generally plays a very clean game, and Vancouver is nowhere near the top of the league in fouls drawn per game, but with such a significant threat, extra care is essential.

Expected Lineups

Vancouver: David Ousted; Harvey, Parker, Waston, Nerwinski; Tchani, Andrew Jacobson; Techera, Reyna, Mezquida; Montero

Seattle: Stefan Frei; Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Kelvin Leerdam; Svensson, Roldan; Jordan Morris, Victor Rodriguez, Nicolas Lodeiro; Will Bruin

How to Watch

Date/Time: Aug 23 at 7:00 PM

Venue: BC Place

Television: JOEtv

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