SEATTLE — When last the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps met, the Cascadia rivals split the points, with the Sounders settling for a 2-2 draw at Lumen Field. In some ways, it portended what would turn out to be a summer of struggles in which they won just 2 of 9 at home at one point.
The Sounders have since turned around their home form, and Saturday’s rescheduled match due to their advancement in Leagues Cup was a test of sorts. Could the Sounders maintain their recent form and clinch a playoff spot while missing half their starters and facing a red-hot opponent?
The Sounders wasted little time answering those questions, setting a blistering pace with two goals in the opening 25 minutes and were seemingly off to the races. The knockout blow had to wait, however, and they received a gut punch themselves before the halftime whistle, having let their guard down over the last 15 minutes of the first period.
The Sounders were able to regroup to start the second half, and restored their two-goal lead courtesy of some quality interplay between Fredy Montero and Will Bruin, with the latter getting his just reward for another lively performance. By the time Leo Chu capped off the scoring with his first goal in a Sounders uniform in the 90’, it was party time in the Brougham End.
Here’s five things we liked from the match:
Kelyn Rowe turns playmaker
A performance like this was, perhaps, coming. Kelyn Rowe talked about his time with the Sounders after training Wednesday and was asked about being signed initially as a complimentary piece in the off-season. Or so we thought. Rowe is the only player to have appeared in every game, and this was one of his finest. Deployed at right wingback, Rowe was involved in just about everything positive the Sounders did Saturday. He started off with a picture-perfect cross that was nodded home by Shane O’Neill in the 5th minute, his first of three credited assists. As important as his crossing was, his defensive work rate, disrupting the Whitecaps attack on both sides of the pitch and providing a physical presence that gave their attackers fits all evening.
Nico Benezet’s early dominance
If there is one player who has come in and endeared himself to both his teammates and fans, it's Nicolas Benezet. Having come in from Colorado virtually for free, Benezet looked to be insurance in the event that Nicolas Lodeiro’s recovery didn’t go according to plan. That transaction looks to be especially prescient now, as Benezet turned in a fantastic performance, particularly in the first half when he was running rampant and could have had several goals. The one he did actually score turned out to be the game-winner in the 14th minute, taking a great touch from a Will Bruin layoff and powering the shot between the legs of Thomas Hasal. As for his celebration, well, it’s better to show than tell.
Will Bruin’s all-around performance
If anyone deserved a goal for the work he put in it was certainly Bruin. The work he does —setting up teammates, holding the ball, battling against center backs — has always been appreciated. But he’s a forward, and forwards want to score goals. After a half-season of frustrations, the goals are finally coming. His goal in the 55th minute was class, the culmination of a fine team goal that saw Bruin roofing the ball past Hasal. With the status of Raúl Ruidíaz up in the air, Bruin will likely get the chance to lead the line for at least a few more games, and the Sounders can rest assured he can do the job.
Not quite 90-minutes of hell, but...
The Sounders strictly speaking aren’t a high-press team, but they certainly showed off that facet of their game, particularly in the first 30 minutes when they blitzed the Whitecaps and threatened to kill off the game right there. Attacking the Whitecaps in packs, the Sounders always seemed to have two defenders around the all. The tactic worked to near-perfection, leaving the Whitecaps out of sorts for long stretches, save the period right before they nicked a goal back. It wasn’t perfect, but having that option in their arsenal will surely prove valuable as the playoffs arrive.
When opportunity knocks
The Sounders haven’t always seized the chance to take advantage of opportunities ahead of them, whether that be taking advantage of games in hand or handling opponents who appeared overmatched on paper. Much like their often-referenced home form, the Sounders have put those particular talking points to bed. With Sporting Kansas City idle, the Sounders took full advantage, stretching their lead atop the Conference to 5 points. Similarly, the Sounders seem to have finally found a way to close the seemingly impossible gap between them and the New England Revolution. With the Revs going 18 days between matches, the Sounders have won two of their games in hand and now are within 8 points of the Supporters’ Shield led. That’s the closest the race has been since early September. The Revs are still very clearly the favorites to lift that trophy, but the Sounders still have a game in hand and can at least make it interesting.