Last night, the Vancouver Whitecaps hosted the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of the Western Conference semi-finals. While the Caps were able to hold the Sounders off the score sheet, they were unable to score themselves. In fact, they were unable to even get a shot on target. As a result, many fans left BC Place, rightfully, disappointed. However, if you listen to interviews after the match by Carl Robinson and the players, the match went exactly as they wanted.
Maybe Vancouver learned from 2015... pic.twitter.com/UgyeLYFLVm— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) October 30, 2017
After a commanding 5-0 victory on Wednesday evening, albeit against an underwhelming San Jose Earthquakes, hopes were high that the Whitecaps could carry that momentum over to Sunday’s match against their Cascadia rival. Fans were dealt their first blow to that hope when the lineups were announced and arguably their two most important play makers, Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera, were absent. Apparently both suffered injuries in the Earthquakes match (an argument for avoiding that play-in match).
Going with a taller, dump and chase, lineup, Seattle threw Vancouver for a loop by giving the Caps possession. The Caps have never wanted possession in a match, hence why they ended the season with the lowest ever recorded average possession in MLS. In fact, if you examine the five-minute intervals for possession, the Caps were even after 30 minutes, and finished the match with 46.4%; not what they want!
With no Techera or Reyna, Seattle stifled Vancouver’s attack by forcing them to have the ball. Strange, I know, but you gotta admit, it was successful.
What emoji to describe that first half?— Eighty Six Forever (@86forever) October 30, 2017
Yeah, So They Sucked. We Know That!!
Yes, the performance was not that great, but it is not as easy as ‘they sucked’. As I noted, interviews with Robbo and players after the match pointed to the Caps being happy with the outcome.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether more of the playoff matches should be one-game playoffs, rather than two-legged affairs. New York Red Bulls 4-0 away victory at Chicago is where proponents of the change would point. In addition, they would note how, despite also being a 0-0 match, different the Atlanta/Columbus match was from Sunday night.
What is the reason for the difference? Some suggest that in a two-legged contest, with away goals counting more, the first match is about making sure not to lose the match rather than trying to get out to a strong lead. The away team is happy with no goals as that means they need to simply win at home to advance. Meanwhile, the home team wants to ensure that they do not concede the all-important away goal, knowing that if they succeed, all they need is a draw (above 0-0) to advance. This mentality leads to what we saw last night: a dull game where neither team looked eager to attack and were more concerned with not making a mistake.
The Vancouver Whitecaps are Done!
It would be easy to write off the Caps after Sunday’s match. Many would say that they needed to put the pressure on the Sounders heading into Thursday’s match. While that may be ideal, that is really not the case. Despite improving this season, the Caps are still the worst team at home, who is in the playoffs. Counter to that, with the exception of TFC, they are the best on the road.
With the strong counter-attack and set-pieces ability, the Caps are really designed to be successful on the road. Home teams tend to be a bit more aggressive and that plays right into the hands of the Caps. If they can sustain the pressure, which they have shown they are capable of doing, their quick-breaks can be more effective as the home team pushes forward. With Seattle sitting back on Sunday, the Caps were unable to exploit that.
If Techera and Reyna are able to start on Thursday, their creativity and set-piece delivery could mean that the Caps could leave Century Link Field with the victory. Remember, all they have to do is tie 1-1 and they advance.
The Caps have also had some success in Seattle, playing in front of the big crowd. However, we only have to look back to September 27th, when the Caps lost 3-0 in Seattle to know how bad it can actually be. In addition, Seattle has a 13-game home unbeaten streak currently. Again though, I seem to recall another team recently having an even greater home unbeaten streak that the Caps dismantled.
What Does This Mean for Thursday?
Was Sunday entertaining? No. Despite what the Whitecaps Twitter feed would like you to believe, it wasn’t fun either.
However, if the Caps advance, which they honestly have a good chance of doing, Carl Robinson and others will point to Sunday’s match as a good example of how to be successful. I believe that former The Province sports writer Marc Weber said it best
If Caps take this series, fair play to them. Approach will be justified. Not my cup of tea.— Marc Weber (@marcdweber) October 30, 2017