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Sounder Strategy: Whitecaps and point gaps

The Sounders can take a leap forward toward playoff position and the Cascadia Cup.

Last Updated
5 min read
Maddy Grassy | Sounders FC Communications

The Cascadian soccer scene is in an unusual place these days. The typically mighty Sounders and inconsistent Timbers are tied on points below the playoff line. Despite their hot start, the Whitecaps have just a five-point gap separating them from Cascadia’s underachievers. After an embarrassing loss against Vancouver with two red cards last month, the Sounders are looking for redemption.

Injuries continue to weight down Seattle, but the return of their young designated player is just in time for this rivalry match. Let’s look at what has been going wrong for the Whitecaps, and how the Sounders might start to turn around their poor home form.

Sussing out Seattle

The first 15 minutes of the midweek match against Real Salt Lake looked promising enough. Sitting deeper and ceding possession, the Sounders were able to counterattack through the speed of Léo Chú and Georgi Minoungou while remaining compact defensively. On this sequence, Danny Leyva and João Paulo combine in tight quarters, and Albert Rusnák does everything but finish after feeding Chú:

The Sounders do all the hard work, but Rusnák’s shot lets him down.

Unfortunately, Chú’s injury moments later derailed the game plan. When João Paulo and Leyva got caught up field in the 27th minute, the lack of mobility in the central midfield pairing was exposed. Salt Lake scored, and the Sounders were forced to chase the game with a vulnerable midfield and Minoungou magic as the only strategy.

The midfield was exposed again in the second half when RSL centerback Brayan Vera dribbled past everyone into the Sounders’ half, finding Diego Luna isolated 1v1 against Jackson Ragen. At 2-0 down, the Sounders were done and dusted.

Vera glides through the Sounders’ midfield, and Luna does the rest.

Rotating the lineup for this match was inevitable. Injuries to the midfield and back line forced a group of less athletic starters. In the end, I do not think we learned much of anything new about the Sounders’ defensive vulnerability. Players like Danny Leyva and Jackson Ragen are still good-to-great passers, but they will struggle defensively when not supported by teammates who can cover ample ground.

More concerning was yet another injury to Chú and the continued lack of end product from veterans Rusnák and Jordan Morris. In past heroic Sounders efforts with heavily rotated lineups, the kids have held the line while a veteran stole the points. Seattle’s 2021 away win at Austin, featuring five teenagers and one Ruidíaz golazo, is the most famous example. Three years later, Ruidíaz looks like the only Sounder capable of putting the team on his back in these situations. For an organization that believed they were flush with quality depth, that’s just not good enough.

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