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Match Preview: Whitecaps meet Sounders for CCL debut

Vancouver gets its first taste of Champions League soccer on Wednesday

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

There's a unique energy to every occasion in which the Whitecaps face the Sounders. Saturday's comprehensive rout at CenturyLink Field was nothing short of spectacular - a statement to the rest of the league updating everyone on what the Blue and White are capable of at present. Seattle, meanwhile, were engulfed in scrutiny in the aftermath of the emphatic 3-0 defeat, remarkably losing seven of their last eight fixtures. The only signal their performance broadcast was that help was needed. Badly. With the weekend's proceedings very much fresh in the mind, the Cascadian foes will meet again on Wednesday in an encore for the ages. Carl Robinson's side are afforded another chance to prove their credentials as Kings of the Pacific Northwest, while the Rave Green can silence their doubters with a positive result. If things go his way, perhaps Sigi Schmid will take some snapshots of his own once the action draws to a conclusion in Vancouver. Apparently the ultimate insult and method of disrespect in today's game is to unleash a Kodak following a road win. Each to their own, I suppose.

The action at BC Place will come in a new flavour, however. Wednesday's contest marks the first CONCACAF Champions League game in club history; a feat achieved by boasting the best record of the league's Canadian representatives in the 2014 regular season. There's added importance attached to the home matches insomuch that success in familiar territory would alleviate the demand to take points away from hostile surroundings. The Caps have often been more convincing south of the border than in the Glass City this term, so to build on their last outing the guys will have to fuel the crowd in much the same way they did against the San Jose Earthquakes recently. While there is always a concern that playing midweek will yield a smaller attendance, the audience looks set to be of considerable size for one of the most hotly anticipated nights of the year for the team. If the fans can give the same effort they did in the Emerald City - frequently drowning out 50,000 Sounders supporters with some help from Pa Modou Kah and Pedro Morales - the quality of the atmosphere will not be up for any form of discussion.

Clint Dempsey, Brad Evans and Stefan Frei returning to availability was supposed to spell the end of the dire stretch of form endured in Seattle over the last two months. Many expected the squad to receive a confidence boost with some of the main leaders at the club able to impact play again. Instead, it had no tangible positive effect on how the other players approached their opposition. One reason why that might be is the continued absence of Obafemi Martins. MLS and its well-funded marketing department would have you believe that Dempsey is the straw that stirs the drink for last term's Supporter's Shield winners. In reality, it is arguably the Nigerian forward who owns the greatest influence on a roster ostensibly stacked with valuable contributors. Clint can be exceptional, petulant ego notwithstanding, playing underneath Obafemi, yet finds it difficult at times to dictate matches without the help of the focal point taking defensive attention away. There's no official word yet as to whether or not Martins will make an appearance on Wednesday, but the long awaited comeback would be very problematic if underestimated.

Among the conversations leading up to this game is the matter of Robbo's line-up, specifically the strength of it in comparison to who he starts on Saturday at home against Real Salt Lake - who play in Guatemala midweek. Will the coach prioritize the Champions League by fielding as strong a side as possible, fatigue issues considering, or will he opt to place emphasis on obtaining points from Western Conference opposition? It's a tricky dilemma, maybe there is a happy medium that can be found but the conundrum creates another intriguing test of depth. If I were a betting man, my money would be with the former because of the significance making a strong start to CCL holds. Moreover, a week after playing Seattle the guys will fly out to Montreal for the first leg of a Voyageurs Cup final that harbours similar urgency for a strong display as the continental competition. I believe Parker, Dean, Teibert, Morales and Mattocks are legitimate candidates to crack the XI midweek, that doesn't mean we'll see all of them from the off however they'll be pushing hard to get the nod nevertheless. Regardless, the way in which Robbo goes about this situation may be indicative of how he regards the different competitions in relation to importance.

Tactically, the 38-year-old faces an interesting decision as to how aggressively he wants to attack the Sounders. Sigi does not possess the same variety of options as his Welsh counterpart, and so fatigue is likely to be a greater issue for the visitors. For this reason, another high energy pressing approach may be the smartest call, although Pedro Morales would have to be accommodated into that, if he starts, as an individual not renowned for that kind of industry. This could be perceived as a negative of sorts, but the benefits - of which there are many - to playing the Chilean skipper outweigh that and lie with his outrageous passing range. Laba, Koffie, Teibert and Flores have it in their capacity to overwhelm Seattle's engine-room and exploit its lack of pace. This will manufacture more space for Morales to feed the options in a way they have missed while he's recovered on the sidelines, particularly in transition where his creative brilliance can surgically dissect the back-line. I don't believe that the team can give up as much of the possession to the same effect with Pedro, as eventually the Sounders will capitalize on his lack of defensive endeavour, but this uncertainty is an advantage in how it will keep Schmid guessing.

Predicted Whitecaps starting line-up: Ousted; Beitashour, Waston, Parker, Dean; Laba, Teibert; Techera, Morales, Mattocks; Rivero

Predicted scoreline: Whitecaps 2-0 Sounders