A Cascadia showdown is on the go this weekend, as the Vancouver Whitecaps will do battle with the Seattle Sounders. The Whitecaps are currently riding high sitting in first place in the Western Conference, but the Sounders are just six points back. A Vancouver win would put some more breathing room between the two clubs, but a Sounders victory means they're 3 points closer to bridging the gap.
To learn more about the familiar foe, we touched base with Dave Clark of fellow SBNation site Sounder at Heart about the Sounders best player not named Obafemi, their recent winning streak, and the impact of losing an important defender.
86Forever: Besides Oba, whom would you say is the sounders most important player?
Dave Clark: That's kind of tough, because there are two guys who are right at the top of the list with Martins as potentially the most important player on the team. Clint Dempsey is pretty easy to tell. He's got all the talent and rate stats to show that if he played 90% of a season he'd be an MVP candidate right next to Obafemi and that Italian over in Toronto. But he doesn't play the whole season, so he's not on any MVP short list. He'll play this weekend, so that's a high powered attack with Oba, Clint and new DP Nelson Haedo Valdez.
Former DP Osvaldo Alonso is the other. Ozzie makes the defense work. He's a tireless ball winner that destroys counter-attacks. More importantly it is Alonso more than any other player on the Sounders who makes their style of possession work. He is patient and penetrating at the same time. He can tap it back-and-forth with his CM partner lulling the opposition to sleep and then strike like a cobra reaching dozens of yards out to create an attack. About two years ago he developed this passing tree that's just exceptional, prior to that he was a mere destroyer. Now, his creative energy is vital to Seattle.
86F: What's the Impact of Losing CB Roman Torres?
DC: If there is a silver lining to losing the Panamanian centerback it is that prior to losing him Seattle's defensive pairing of Brad Evans and Chad Marshall was damn good. When both were on the field they really only laid a single egg. Then the season happened. Summer signaled a downfall for the entire team. There were issues in the attack and in possession and sometimes the defense wasn't good enough either. One way to solve that was to get everyone healthy. A controllable way to solve the defense and possession issues was to sign an extraordinary CB who would allow Evans and new signing Erik Friberg to roam the midfield.
Now that great CB is gone. Evans is almost certain to slip back into the defense. It will be back to pretty damn awesome. The new signings (Friberg, Ivanschitz, Valdez) and the health of Alonso will maintain possession. Roman Torres is probably the most easily replaced of the Ideal XI.
86F: The Sounders haven't lost in three straight. Is this the start of a run up the Western conference standings?
DC: Yes. When Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins both play, since the 2014 season started, the Sounders are 25-10-6 earning 1.975 points per match. That includes MLS Cup Playoff games. People who thought the Sounders were falling apart ignored that it was their bodies falling apart, not the team. Seattle should finish with 51-54 points while taking some from several quality squads (at Vancouver, at Kansas City, LA, at Houston and hosting Salt Lake).
It's a tough schedule, but the team that will be taking the field during the run-in is of higher quality than the one that won the Shield in 2014 or the one that started the year 9-4-2 +12. It's too late to win the Shield. It's probably too late to get a bye in the Playoffs. It's not too late to win the Cascadia Cup, qualify for the CCL knockouts and host a Play-In game.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Fisher, Evans, Marshall, Mears; Ivanschitz, Friberg, Alonso, Valdez; Dempsey, Martins