Saturday's match against the Seattle Sounders (W10-L10-D2) kicks off one of the, if not the, biggest months in the Vancouver Whitecaps' (W11-L8-D3) history. During the month of August the Caps will play eight matches across three different competitions, and will face some pretty tough opposition in the process.
First things first, though. Before we get carried away and start pulling out the hackneyed phrases such as "je me souviens" in preparation for a Voyageur's Cup final that could see Didier Drogba lacing up his boots for the Montreal Impact, we first have to discuss the first of two matches that the Caps will play against the Sounders this week.
The first match, of course, goes Saturday night at 7PM (TSN1, TSN Radio 1410AM) at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, and there is so very,very much on the line - a victory over the Whitecaps would seal the Sounders' first Cascadia Cup title since 2011. A single point from a draw or the three points from the win, however, means the Caps stay in the hunt for their third consecutive Cascadia Cup.
No pressure, right?
When it comes to a Derby match, particularly one between Vancouver and Seattle, you can almost throw either side's recent form out of the window, but perhaps this time the Whitecaps may fancy their chances for a positive result in the Emerald City.
Seattle, you see, has suffered some injuries to some of their key players such Obefemi Martins and Clint Dempsey. While Seattle coach Sigi Schmidt was non committal on whether either player would see the pitch on Saturday night, we certainly should expect to see Dempsey, who played in the MLS All Star Game earlier this week.
During the absence of the pair the Sounders have gone through a very bad patch in their season. Seattle hasn't found the back of the net in three straight matches, and have lost six of their seven previous outings.
During the same seven match span the Whitecaps have fared much better with a record of W4-L2-D1, which is good enough for thirty-six points and second place in the MLS Western Conference.
We talked earlier about breaking out the puns and hackneyed phrases, but Saturday's match against Seattle truly will be an epic six-pointer. While Seattle has undoubtedly been through a run of poor form, they still sit fourth in the Western Conference behind the Whitecaps. So an addition to being able to claim the Cascadia Cup tonight a victory would also move the Sounders to within a point of the Caps in the league.
Let's just think about that for a moment: a victory on Saturday would move the Sounders to within a point of the Caps in the league and they would win their first Cascadia Cup for the first time since 2011.
The Caps and Sounders have only faced each other once so far this season back on May 16th at BC Place. That afternoon the Sounders walked away with all the points after they handed the Caps a 2-0 loss in front of their home supporters. On that day the Martins-less Sounders, who weren't favoured to win that match, scored both goals courtesy of the foot of Chad Barrett. Those of you who have been licking their chops at the prospect of a Seattle side that may not feature Dempsey or Martins will have to keep that interesting little fact in mind.
The good news for Vancouver is that tonight Cristian Techera and Jordan Harvey, who are returning from suspension for some naughtiness in Portland two weeks ago, will be available. Pedro Morales, who has finally recovered from a calf injury that kept him sidelined for several weeks, saw action in the second half of the victory over the San Jose Earthquakes last weekend. Considering the all the subplots for this match one would expect that Morales will see the pitch at some point during the match.
Comparing the form of the two clubs in recent times you would have to at least give a slight advantage to the Caps for this one. Last week at BC Place we saw the Caps dominate and control the San Jose Earthquakes, and the Caps were rewarded with a satisfying 3-1 victory for their efforts.
It is utterly crucial that Vancouver must establish themselves early in the match and play the same responsible soccer that we saw them play against the Earthquakes last weekend.
Keys to the match:
1.) Play Whitecaps soccer - sure, the Sounders are going to be pumped to go out and win this match in what will be at least a 50k+ crowd at the CLink, but so will the Whitecaps. Carl Robinson and his team will be eager to start this epic month off on the right foot and a victory at CenturyLink would be an ideal start.
2.) Be wary of the Seattle attack - maybe Oba will play, maybe he won't. Maybe Dempsey will play, maybe he won't*. The Caps have to be careful of Seattle's attack because as we saw back in May the Sounders were able to catch the Vancouver backline flatfooted and Barrett punished them for it. The backline and the likes of Matias Laba and Gershon Koffie and/or Russell Teibert will have to be on top form for this match.
*- Dempsey most likely is fit enough to play.
3.) Share the wealth - last week the three Vancouver goals were scored by three different players (Mauro Rosales, Kendall Waston, Octavio Rivero). It would go a long way if multiple players are threatening the Seattle goal, and wouldn't another goal, or two, from a set piece be nice?
Predicted Whitecaps Starting XI - Ousted; Harvey, Kah, Waston, Beitashour; Koffie, Laba; Manneh, Rosales, Techera; Rivero.
Predicted Sounders Starting XI - Perkins; Remick, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Rose, Alonso, Friberg; Neagle, Dempsey, Thomas
Predicted Score: Seattle Sounders FC 1 -2 Vancouver Whitecaps FC