VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
July 5th, 7pm at BC Place (TSN2)
Vancouver: 22pts (5W-3L-7D, 5th in Western Conference, 8th Overall)
Seattle: 35pts (11W-3L-2D, 1st in Western Conference, 1st Overall)
It's not often you see the current Supporters' Shield table leaders roll into town and think, "Y'know, this is a winnable match." That's the case with this Cascadian match, though, as the Seattle Sounders arrive at BC Place tonight minus some very key pieces. Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda are suspended due to yellow card accumulation; Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin are questionable as they return from World Cup duty in Brazil; and Djimi Traore is on the shelf with a right adductor strain. That's anywhere from three to five starters for the Sounders not taking part in tonight's match; if that isn't a golden opportunity to score three much-needed points, I don't know what is.
Not only would a win tonight give the 'Caps three points in Major League Soccer, taking them to 25 and putting pressure on FC Dallas, LA Galaxy and the Portland Timbers to keep pace, it would give Vancouver three massive points in the Cascadia Cup standings and - perhaps most importantly - give the young squad some of their confidence back. Anyone who stayed awake through the snoozers that were the mid-week nil-all draw against the Montreal Impact and last weekend's loss against the Colorado Rapids saw a team that looked uninterested, uninspired and not anything like the bravado-fuelled attacking threats that have terrorized opposing defenses. A win here reverses that trend, one would think, though in the same breath the opposite has to be considered: a loss against a depleted, vulnerable Seattle side may bring Vancouver to consider a reactionary summer rebuild. Again. I'm sure we all know how those tend to work out.
While the Seattle roster juggling will be the most apparent once the teams take to the pitch, there will no doubt be some massaging of pieces for Carl Robinson's side as well. Steven Beitashour has returned from the World Cup, having logged zero minutes in service to his country and will no doubt be hungry to see the pitch. This would mean Nigel Reo-Coker will either be back on the bench or, perhaps in a bid to jump-start the midfield, displacing either Gershon Koffie or Matias Laba. Considering the sub-par play from all parties in the last two matches, I wouldn't rule any options out. I also wouldn't be surprised to see front four shaken up, as it would seem Erik Hurtado's hot streak has finally come to an end. With only Pedro Morales' position the least debatable, any combination of Darren Mattocks, Russell Teibert, Kekuta Manneh, Sebastián Fernández, Nicolás Mezquida or Omar Salgado could see the pitch tonight. While it might be tempting to call that a wealth of options, I wouldn't be so quick to call zero goals in 189 minutes - 229 minutes if you don't count penalties - a "wealth" per se.
PREDICTION: A 2-2 draw with Seattle tying the game late.