Saturday's encounter at BC Place marked the first meeting between the Whitecaps and their rave green enemies since securing the Cascadia Cup at CenturyLink Field last October. Much has changed since Kekuta Manneh's winning goal against the Supporters' Shield holders with the Blue and White coming into the match four points clear of their visitors from the Emerald City. It has been well-documented that the Sounders have shown signs indicative that they will soon assume their usual spot at the summit of the standings, however an injury to Obafemi Martins and last week's 3-2 loss to Columbus Crew SC at Mapfre Stadium have helped to create some uncertainty. This is something of an unfamiliar sensation and in many respects reflects the progress made this term in Carl Robinson's second year at the helm. Taking points from the contests with Seattle and the Portland Timbers served as the backbone to what was achieved and collecting those results has been held in similar regard to this point in 2015. Intensity is a constant theme to every edition of the I-5 derby and Mark Geiger's appointment as referee only added to the inevitable ferocity after his much maligned antics in the playoff clash down in Frisco last fall.
Steven Beitashour returned to the line-up after dealing with a glute strain, and Jordan Harvey lined up in the other full-back role with Sam Adekugbe picking up an injury midweek. Manneh got the nod over Darren Mattocks on the left wing while Robinson elected to hand Cristian Techera his first start since leaving his homeland of Uruguay in place of the sidelined Mauro Rosales. Robert Earnshaw, Kianz Froese, Gershon Koffie, Mattocks and Nico Mezquida each represented game-changing options in reserve should they have been called upon. Sigi Schmid elected to start Stefan Frei between the sticks, Tyrone Mears and Dylan Remick at full-back, Chad Marshall and Brad Evans at centre-back, Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa on either flank, Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda in the middle, with Clint Dempsey and Chad Barrett leading the line. Most notably Martins was absent from the eighteen, failing to travel as he struggled to feature in practice during the week. Russell Teibert put in the best showing of his career in his last duel with Dempsey, shutting down the USMNT regular like Richard Sherman so often does to NFL wideouts on the same field for the Seahawks, and that battle within the battle came attached with much hype leading up to kick-off. Everything pointed to ninety fascinating minutes tactically with sub-plots to watch out for galore.
All of the good vibes in Vancouver during the week were abandoned only five minutes into proceedings as Chad Barrett latched onto a Clint Dempsey through-ball to break the deadlock unexpectedly early. There were certainly shades of Octavio Rivero to his off the ball intelligence, leaving the defence utterly helpless thanks to the timing of his run. It was anticipated that such a blow would completely derail the hosts considering the quiet optimism abundant throughout the stadium, yet the reaction to the adversity was one of renewed energy and seemingly represented the catalyst for a comeback. Pedro Morales - rejuvenated after taking control of last week's win over the Philadelphia Union in mesmerizing style - was very much at the forefront of this positivity in terms of both receiving and creating opportunities. In various instances, the Chilean Maestro tested Stefan Frei with an array of threatening attempts on frame and promising deliveries into the eighteen-yard box. It was refreshingly noticeable to witness the Whitecaps react to not only going a goal down with direct intent, but also to Schmid's conservative approach by playing with the same urgency exhibited when there is more space vacated. It felt a matter of when and not if that the scoreline would be levelled and to an extent that made what followed even more difficult to take.
After weathering the storm, Seattle relied on the winning mentality that has put them among Major League Soccer's elite over recent years. Possession improved and shortly thereafter the confidence deflated by the sudden swing of momentum returned. Barrett managed to outwit Kendall Waston with smart movement and got in behind the rather sleepy back-line to inexplicably volley home his second of the day. This was especially disappointing for the home faithful who had found incentive for encouragement in the thirty minutes or so beforehand. The Sounders released the pressure with surgical precision, exploiting the weaknesses in shape and positioning to restore the conceded breathing room. Beitashour didn't exactly endeavour to support his Costa Rican colleague, drawn out too wide to prevent the lead from being doubled, and Ousted was rendered obsolete by the quality of the attempt. Martins has enjoyed some sensational form recently and his absence was widely noted as a lucky break of sorts in the pre-match discussions, so credit is owed to his understated back-up for making the most of a rare start. It wasn't long before the interval arrived, providing much needed respite for the captive audience and no doubt exhausted participants, with Robbo's men in a precarious state trailing 2-0.
There was evidently widespread belief in the group that the deficit was not totally insurmountable and that played a big part in the high tempo on show in the early stages of the second half. Soon though, hope transitioned into exhaustion as Seattle became increasingly assured in their surroundings. Kekuta Manneh received the ball in dangerous positions with exciting regularity, however failed to deliver the same production his side have enjoyed from him down the years in this fixture. Areas that had previously invited attacking moves were eventually occupied by pitch-black jerseys and the offensive options found themselves lacking inspiration as a result of that. Although Robbo made three sound substitutes with hypothetical benefits to each introduction - swapping Techera for Mattocks, Teibert for Koffie, and Manneh for Froese - none could prove the much needed, elusive panacea. Many have been impressed by how the defensive unit have made improvements over the last few weeks, yet they couldn't supplement the under-appreciated job conducted in the engine-room. Collective effort between both groups is a requisite to take maximum points from opponents of this calibre, as demonstrated by the lack of cohesion in the defeat.
It would be fair to suggest that this Sounders outfit garner most of their acclaim for highlight reel moments of beauty, but that's not necessarily what makes them one of the very best in North America right now. It's the discipline, the dedication to the blueprint commissioned by their manager and the structure from the first minute to the final whistle that composes their brilliance. It secured the club's first ever victory at BC Place this weekend and will continually pay dividends in the near future if they wish to celebrate MLS Cup glory with this current nucleus of key individuals. Fixtures come thick and fast to circumvent a hangover from this result for the Caps, with a trip to Edmonton for the second leg of the Voyageurs Cup semi-final already on everyone's mind. Days later, a date at altitude with the Colorado Rapids is on the cards, presenting a selection headache to the head coach with high stakes on the line in both games. Depth has been cited as an aspect that will establish the team as a bonafide force in the Western Conference and this will offer a platform to discover the validity of that claim. Here's hoping we see a backlash of seismic proportions before the squad embark on a five-game road trip right after welcoming Real Salt Lake to beautiful British Columbia at the end of the month.