SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC
October 10th, 7:00pm at CenturyLink Field (TSN1, TSN3, TSN4, TSN5)
Seattle: 60pts (19W-9L-3D, 1st in Western Conference, 1st Overall)
Vancouver: 43pts (10W-8L-13D, 6th in Western Conference, 11th Overall)
By virtue of their midweek stomping of San Jose, the Portland Timbers have climbed above the Whitecaps into the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. If there wasn't enough pressure on Vancouver already, a dump truck full was just emptied onto their collective backs.
I know what a lot of you out there are tempted to think: the last time this situation occurred (almost a year to the day), Kekuta Manneh put the team on his back, the ball past Michael Gspurning (remember him?) three times and the Vancouver Whitecaps within striking distance of a playoff spot. Manneh's hat trick - still used repeatedly in promotional materials for the team - not only propelled the young Gambian into the league's collective consciousness but gave the Vancouver faithful something they hadn't seen in years: solid evidence that the Seattle Sounders can be beaten within the imposing, intimidating confines of CenturyLink Field.
That, however, was last year. Both teams are far from their previous incarnations, neither in ways that help the 'Caps. Seattle is cruising with an MVP candidate in Obafemi Martins, a revitalized top-tier USMNT player in Clint Dempsey, a 2014 U.S. Open Cup to their name and a decent shot at the 2014 Supporters' Shield. Speculation about the Sounders' chances at the fabled, as-yet-unattained MLS treble - domestic cup, Supporters' Shield, MLS Cup - continues to swirl, which is either a sign of the team's dominant stature or a distraction (if not a jinx or curse), depending on your point of view. On the flip side, Vancouver is a team reforming, rebuilding and rebranding itself after losing its head coach, top scorer and many supporting pieces before and during the season. Their top two scorers have fewer goals than Dempsey combined. Their top scorer is a penalty-taking midfielder, while their listed forwards have been nothing if not streaky and anemic.
In short, if you thought Vancouver had a slim-to-none chance last year (and they most certainly did), the odds are even worse this time around. Even a miracle hat trick might not be enough to get Vancouver the win they need to both retain the Cascadia Cup and keep pace with the Portland Timbers. In a way, Portland could be thanked somewhat for making the argument over the importance of a supporter-created trophy versus a playoff spot moot: only a win can get the Whitecaps towards both. Anything less and it's all gone.
This is usually the part where I try and be somewhat optimistic to give even the grumpiest fan a glimmer of hope. Sadly, not even the loss of DeAndre Yedlin for international duty is going to make a lick of difference in this match. Vancouver will be without the services of Sebastian Fernandez (yellow card suspension) and Darren Mattocks (international duty), which means the attacking corps for the game will be Erik Hurtado and Kekuta Manneh - the former having been converted into a holding striker, while the other is a super-sub. Christian Dean and Carlyle Mitchell will also be on international duty but if you honestly thought they'd be a factor in this match, you're wrong. Oh, and should Jordan Harvey, Pedro Morales, Russell Teibert or Kendall Waston pick up even a single yellow card, they'll be suspended for the penultimate game of the season against the San Jose Earthquakes. Anyone want to place bets on how quickly Waston earns that yellow? I'll give you good odds on "before halftime".
I'm glad I'll be out visiting with a big group of friends tonight with the game on the PVR for watching tomorrow; if I'm going to be despondent over a thumping at the hands of a rival, I'd rather it be in the cozy confines of my living room and not in person.
PREDICTION: 4-1 Seattle in karmic retribution for last year's anomaly.
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