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Scouting Report: Riding the wave

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The Sounders are dropping in to what could be a great barrel if they set it up right.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

What You’ll Watch

The Seattle Sounders return home from their three-game road trip and welcome their Cascadia rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps to the Emerald City. This is the first of just two meetings this season and the only one to be played at home.

The Whitecaps are currently eighth in the Western Conference with a record of 7-8-5 (26 points in 20 games played; 1.3 ppg) while the Sounders sit in tenth place in the West with a record of 4-9-5 (17 points in 18 games played; 0.94 ppg). Last time out, the Sounders earned a hard point on the road against Atlanta United in their 1-1 draw. Vancouver fell to D.C. United 3-1 on the road and the newly opened Audi Stadium.

This will be the 21st all-time MLS meeting and the Sounders hold a record of 8-7-5 with 29 goals scored and 26 conceded. At home, Seattle is 4-4-1 with 13 goals scored and 14 conceded. Remember the time when Vancouver couldn’t beat Seattle? Let’s hope another run like that will begin this weekend.

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: W-L-L-W-L with nine goals scored and 12 conceded (shutout two times)

Leading Goal Scorer: Kei Kamara, eight goals (three on the road)

Assist Leader: Alphonso Davies, eight (one on the road)

Injury Report, Suspensions and International Duty

Vancouver

Out: N/A

Questionable: Kendall Waston (left groin strain)

Suspensions: N/A

International Duty: N/A

Seattle

Out: Jordan Morris (torn ACL) and Handwalla Bwana (right midfoot sprain)

Questionable: Roman Torres (left ankle sprain)

Suspensions: Jordan McCrary (red card)

International Duty: N/A

Match Officials

REFEREE: Christopher Penso

AR1: Cameron Blanchard

AR2: Jeremy Hanson

4th: Farhad Dadkho

VAR: Allen Chapman

What to Watch

Vancouver Whitecaps’ system

Our little brothers to the north are my favorite team to review. It’s hard to explain why the Whitecaps fall just short so continuously, but they’re so earnest in their efforts that you can’t help but want to ruffle their hair and give them a “you’ll get ‘em next time, tiger”. True to head coach Carl Robinson’s seeming ethos, they remain the most counterattackingest team in the league. Their away defense, meanwhile, works to plumb the depths of just how poorly a defense can defend (this is, by the way, hyperbole — they’re consistently three or four teams up from the very bottom of the high-level statistical categories). He has changed up the formation to a 4-4-2 that nominally plays more like a 4-5-1 with a dedicated CDM and two CMs who run a sort of double pivot adjusted for opponents. The underneath forward, almost always Yordy Reyna

The biggest saving grace for us Sounders fans, who at this point almost certainly all have some sort of pattern baldness from ripping our hair out over ignored fouls, is that Vancouver tends to avoid fouling. They’re much more willing to allow the ball to continue moving, a tango of tension happily danced around their 18 yard box so long as the defenders are able to keep the ball in front of them. Unsurprisingly, they spend a lot of time defending, and even moreso when on the road (34% of the game); only the Colorado Rapids spend more time in their own third.

The downside to this is, of course, that it often leads to a packed box and a few dozen worthless, wasteful, pointless crosses being dumped in by attackers who’ve run out of ideas. We’ve seen that movie before and it isn’t much fun. The back four operates in what has become the soup du jour: centerbacks that split out wide to cover the intermediate channels with a CDM that drops in between to cover the central line. With the way the Sounders offensive talent is trending, this looks to be exploitable with a shiny new lone forward that moves in these in-between spaces. Whether Ruidiaz produces the same is clearly not a knowable thing yet, but these are the same spaces that Atlanta’s Josef Martinez exploits so efficiently against MLS defenses.

Normally this is where we’d talk about how the team transitions, and what shifts are made, but Vancouver doesn’t have that — they just have spin and attack. If there’s one thing the Whitecaps do know it’s counterattacking, and they’re remarkably well-balanced between the three main channels with these. As with most teams in the league, there’s a bit more cautiousness in bringing up support while playing on the road, and this leads to a shift towards shots coming from outside the main channel more often. Both outside backs are given the freedom to attack and support high, but this isn’t a team that looks to build long, drawn out possession.

They’re there to pull defenses wider and open space for the angled runs of Kamara and Christian Techera, and to create a bit more operating space for Davies. An odd name to see in the also-rans this year is Yordy Reyna, who showed so much promise when he first showed up that people wondered how long they’d be able to hold onto him. That potential has remained only that. He’s certainly dangerous and shouldn’t be forgotten, but he’s not generating goals or assists as they need him to.

Once again a the Sounders face a Whitecaps team with a questionable defense and an offense with scary potential only on paper. It’s not going to be an easy match, but it’s also a match that feels like an inevitable 2-1 victory.

Quick Keys

  • Don’t overthink things - Start Raul Ruidiaz up top by himself. This isn’t rocket science (it seems like that’s an exhortation I’ve been using often this year, doesn’t it). He’s succeeded in that position for years in that way, and this is a team that can provide the support around him to be successful in that way.
  • Let the Shipp carry you - My favorite way to describe Harry Shipp’s play is “wise”, and that sort of wisdom is going to be needed to break down the packed house Vancouver puts up. He fills gaps and moves defenders around in ways that help so many other players and patterns. The team as currently constructed is constantly in need of that attention to the foundation.
  • Put on the power ring - you know what to do, Green Lantern.

How to Watch

Date/Time: Saturday, July 21 @ 1:00 PM

Location: CenturyLink Field — Seattle, WA

TV: JOEtv, Univision-Seattle

Streaming: YouTube TV

Radio: 950 KJR AM (English), El Rey 1360AM (Spanish)