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Match Preview: Whitecaps FC vs. Sounders FC

It's the biggest match of the season so far, but what do the Whitecaps have to do to beat our biggest rivals?

He who laughs last laughs best. The Whitecaps will have to be wary of the ever dangerous Clint Dempsey (above).
He who laughs last laughs best. The Whitecaps will have to be wary of the ever dangerous Clint Dempsey (above).
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Well you guys it's a long weekend Friday, it's payday, and perhaps most importantly of all it's derby weekend here in Upper Cascadia.

Why don't we let that all sink in for a moment - it's derby weekend here in Upper Cascadia.

If taking that brief pause didn't get you excited for Saturday's match between our beloved Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders (4pm PDT TSN1, TSN1410AM), then I'm not sure there is anything I can write that will convince you otherwise.

So let's get to the heart of the matter.  This match is going to be nothing short of two Cascadia heavyweights slugging it out for points and position at the top of the MLS Western Conference.  The Whitecaps, who currently sit atop of the table with a record of W6-L2-D3 (20 points), are only four points clear of the third place Sounders (W5-L1-D3).  The Whitecaps have owned the Sounders in recent times, and you have to go all the way back to June 8th, 2013 when Seattle last beat the Caps (yes, we all remember what happened that night at the CLink, so there's no need to rehash that one, right guys?).

To put it simply if the Whitecaps win they will increase the gap between themselves and the Sounders to seven points.  Lose, and the Sounders will only be a point behind them.  Also, a Vancouver win will increase their lead at the top of the Cascadia Cup standings to seven points after three Cascadia matches played and will keep them, for now, four points clear of Seattle in the cup standings.

There are plenty of reasons for the Caps to be motivated for this one, but what will it take for them to get the job done?  There will be several  things that I will be watching out for when these two teams take to the pitch and they are:

  • Defense: Carl Robinson has gone back to Jordan Harvey recent weeks, and with Sam Adekugbe getting injured against FC Edmonton last Wednesday night it's pretty easy to figure out who starts at left back. Expect to see Pa-Modou Kah and Kendall Waston as in the middle, and Tim "The Rock" Parker at right back if Steven Beitashour still has not recovered from the glute strain that has kept him watching from the sidelines in recent weeks. If either Kah or Waston, who can be somewhat card prone, go into the referee's notebook early then it could be very bad news for Vancouver, especially if one of them were to be sent off.
  • Midfield: One of my biggest concerns with the Caps' midfield is Pedro Morales. Yes, we've discussed the Chilean's form numerous times over the past few months, but the fact is that the Whitecaps attack flows through Pedro, and if the Sounders can shut down Morales then it's likely that Octavio Rivero will not get the service he needs to threaten the Seattle 'keeper. The question is if Seattle does shut down Morales will it open up space elsewhere on the pitch, and if it does will one of Pedro's teammates be able to step up and exploit it?
  • Forwards: Last week against the hapless Philadelphia Union we saw Morales, Rivero and Darren Mattocks score for the Whitecaps. Obviously Seattle is a more formidable opponent than the Union, but if the Whitecaps can take control of the match like they did against Philly or the LA Galaxy, then hopefully there will be plenty of opportunities in front of Stefan Frei's goal.

Another concern of mine is if Seattle decides to drop their midfield line a little bit deeper (think along the lines of Robbo deploying a 4-3-1-2 formation away at Real Salt Lake a few weeks ago) to help out their backline.  We've seen that the Whitecaps have had trouble breaking down teams that bunker down, so if that is a tactic that Sigi Schmid rolls out for the Sounders tomorrow, then it will be quite a test for the Whitecaps.

So let's talk formations now.  Will Robbo go with his trusted 4-2-3-1, or will he have to adjust if the Sounders decide to park the bus and frustrate the Caps?  One interesting matchup will be how Vancouver's defensive corps will deal with Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins.  The latter, at least, may prove not to be a worry for the Whitecaps, as Martins has not trained in recent days and is unlikely to play on Saturday.

If Robinson decides to go with the 4-2-3-1 look for the usual suspects in the starting XI - David Ousted, Jordan Harvey, Pa-Modou Kah, Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, Russell Teibert, Matías Laba, Kekuta Manneh, Pedro Morales, Mauro Rosales and Octavio Rivero.  But, and bear with me on this for a moment, how about rolling out the 4-4-2 diamond against the Sounders?

If I were Robbo (and Whitecaps fans everywhere can be thankful that is not the case) perhaps the players used for the 4-4-2 diamond could look something like this: Ousted, Harvey, Kah, Waston, Parker, Laba, Teibert, Morales, Rosales, Rivero and Mattocks.

Now here's the twist:

Go with the 4-4-2 diamond and the starting XI from the previous paragraph.  At halftime you could substitute Manneh for Teibert or Cristian Techera for Rosales.  We all know how Manneh has devastated the Sounders in recent years (think Se4tt1e here), but after they've been worn down by the speed and skill of Rivero and Mattocks for a half or even an hour, throw Manneh and El Bicho into the fray to take advantage of the tired Seattle players.  If that's not enough then bring on Robert Earnshaw for Mattocks for the last twenty minutes or so, and use Earnie's skill and experience to, hopefully, find a goal (or two) in the final stages of the match.

So here are my keys to the match:

  • Take the match to Sounders right from the start and get that early goal. Keep the big and enthusiastic crowd engaged in the match, and keep Seattle on their back foot.
  • Be disciplined - this is especially important for Vancouver's important defensive players like Laba, Waston and Kah. The Caps cannot afford to get into a similar situation like they were a few weeks ago when Laba was sent off against DC United.
  • The Caps best players have to be their best players. I know it sounds cliché, but in a match against our biggest rivals we'll need guys like Morales to be at their very best if the Caps are going to claim all three points on offer.

Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): GK Ousted, Harvey, Kah, Waston, Parker, Teibert, Laba, Manneh, Morales, Rosales, Rivero

Predicted Score: Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 - 1 Seattle Sounders FC