There was late drama in the regular-season finale, but not a fun kind. The Seattle Sounders put together quality sequences, but couldn’t get more than a 1-1 draw out of their trip to face the Vancouver Whitecaps. The one point means the Sounders win the 2021 Cascadia Cup, as well as finish second in the Western Conference, securing a CCL berth and home-field advantage at least until the conference finals.
Seattle’s goal came early, as Nicolas Benezet’s corner in the 7th minute was flicked on by Cristian Roldan before striking a Whitecaps player’s hand. Fredy Montero stepped up to the spot and easily slotted it home. Vancouver equalized just over 10 minutes later as the defense was found in disarray and Ryan Gauld headed home a loose ball.
Once again, the Sounders demonstrated how important João Paulo is through his absence. By the end of the game, Seattle held a respectable 48.8% of possession (according to MLSSoccer.com) but well below 40% through the first half. The team, especially the midfield, were too easy to pass around for Vancouver, and when the Sounders got possession they struggled to find any kind of rhythm.
Jordan Morris came on as a halftime sub to try to stretch the Vancouver defense, entering for Josh Atencio, and while he had some promising moments that showed flashes of his ability, it seemed as though his instincts were still lagging in his return from injury.
There was a bit of excitement at the end of the game when Xavier Arreaga had a look at goal on a scramble, went to ground and kicked out at a defender/the ball, which drew the ire of Crepeau. Crepeau’s response was too much for Nouhou to accept calmly, and in moments seemingly the entirety of both teams were trying to separate the two players. No cards came of it, meaning the whole squabble was the game in microcosm: a whole bunch of bluster for an equal portion of nothing. Seattle will face RSL in the first round of the playoffs, which will be played in just over two weeks.
8’ — GOAL! Fredy Montero steps up to the spot for a penalty after a handball on a corner and calmly sends the goalkeeper the wrong way to open the scoring! 1-0 Sounders
17’ — Some quality possession from Vancouver leads to a hard-hit cross from the right that skips over Nouhou before being swatted by Stefan Frei and eventually cleared.
20’ — GOAL! Vancouver hits a cross into the box that pops up and Ryan Gauld is first to it to head the ball off the post and into the net to even the score. 1-1
26’ — Brad Smith is released down the left channel by Nico Benezet on a 1-2 and hits a low cross for Montero whose shot is just stopped and smothered by the ‘keeper.
34’ — Another good sequence from Benezet and Smith, and Montero is on the ball in the box. His shot is deflected to Cristian Roldan, but the close-range shot is blocked as well.
51’ — Vancouver drive forward again and Brian White gets a completely open header ghosting off of Nouhou’s back shoulder and puts it wide.
83’ — Vancouver nearly gets a second on a corner, but Fredy Montero heads it out for a corner just ahead of the goal line.
90+4’— The Sounders get a late corner that deflects out and back into the box where it falls to Montero, whose shot is saved.
MVJP: It turns out you simply can’t talk enough about João Paulo, even — heck, maybe even especially — when he doesn’t play. At their best early this season João Paulo was key to that success, consistently leading both teams in any given game in both touches and passes, and rarely losing the ball with a bad one of either. Add to that the Brazilian’s defensive acumen and the Sounders were rarely losing the midfield on either side of the ball. Whether playing for possession or looking to win in transition, João Paulo was literally and figuratively in the middle of it. Without him, things haven’t looked so pretty. With a midfield pair of Josh Atencio and Kelyn Rowe there was neither the quantity nor quality of passes or work to regain possession, to say nothing of the calm and leadership JP offers. Here’s hoping that the international break provides him the time he needs to get back on the field.
Speaking of injuries: No one enjoys talking about injuries, and they certainly weren’t the reason that the Sounders couldn’t get more than a draw out of this one. Seattle has the quality and depth to play better than what we’ve seen recently, but boy would it probably make life easier to have their best players available. Jimmy Medranda’s absence has meant an increased reliance on Brad Smith, who put in a good first half when he got forward but struggled defensively and seemed out of gas in the second half. Raúl Ruidíaz missing games, as well as Will Bruin picking up an injury, has meant that Fredy Montero’s the one carrying the weight of a lone striker. He had some good moments, not least of all his penalty, but Montero’s not a line-leading starting forward for a team with championship aspirations in 2021, and he was largely invisible throughout the second half. João Paulo and Nico Lodeiro both being out means that guys who are great depth are being asked to play more than they’re realistically ready for right now. That’s meant that Josh Atencio and Kelyn Rowe, in particular, have had some really great games over the course of the season but have also looked somewhat out of their depth when asked to fill the role of one of the team’s DPs.
Defending, schmefending: Along with João Paulo’s midfield dominance, the Sounders defense was another hallmark of the team’s success earlier in the season. During the six-game winless streak that ended the regular season, and honestly during stretches prior to that, the defense hasn’t been so hot. Yeimar Gomez Andrade and Nouhou both looked like Defensive Player of the Year candidates when they were on the field for much of the season, and Gomez Andrade made the final list of nominees for the award. Xavier Arreaga had his usual struggles, but he also looked a lot more like a highly-paid TAM player than he had in the past. Nouhou hasn’t been the same since missing time due to injury, and the defense has consistently looked disjointed and uncertain for a while now. To add to the struggles, where the Sounders had previously been strong on set-pieces — both attacking and defending them — they’ve now given up several goals and clear chances from them recently, and beyond that just generally look susceptible when opponents line up a free kick or get ready for a corner. These are weaknesses that will get exploited in the playoffs if they’re not fixed in the coming weeks.
Did you see that?!?
Clinical from the spot @_fredymontero gives us an early lead! #SoundersMatchday | #VANvSEA pic.twitter.com/aEaycMRxQ6— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) November 7, 2021
He said what?!?
That group is we had a good season but the lapses in concentration in last five games let us down or we could have been in first. Playoffs are often decided by one play and you can't have a lapse in concentration on any play. We need to do a little bit better." - Schmetzer— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) November 8, 2021
One stat to tell the tale
8 — Seattle took 8 shots from inside Vancouver’s 18-yard box, 3 more than Vancouver took in total.
Man of the match
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