On Saturday night (7PM) at Centurylink Field, the Vancouver Whitecaps will take on the Seattle Sounders for the first time since the MLS is Back tournament. For Seattle, it’s an opportunity to cement their excellence at the top of the Western Conference table. Meanwhile for Vancouver, it’s a measuring stick match in which they’ll be hoping to get back on track and drag themselves back into contention for a playoff spot.
To preview the teams going into this one, I exchanged three questions with Mark Kastner of Sounder at Heart.
Mark: Things look pretty bleak for the Whitecaps this season from the outside looking in. What’s one reason you’re hopeful for this team’s future?
Sam: Whether it was missing five players at MLS is Back, weird travel schedules, or simply poor play, it’s been a long season for the Whitecaps, no doubt. That being said, the performances of some of the young players on the roster have been really encouraging, so at least there’s that.
Last year, Marc Dos Santos was very wary of throwing young players into the fire when he didn’t feel like they were ready, but this season, he often hasn’t had a choice. Obviously everyone got to know Thomas Hasal a little bit at MLS is Back, but unfortunately the young keeper will be out for the rest of the season with head & leg injuries. The other youngster to watch is Michael Baldisimo. After a long run of injuries and setbacks, the 20-year-old is finally finding first-team minutes. He’s a defensively capable number six who really excels in picking out passes and playing long, line-breaking balls forwards.
Mark: Vancouver has managed to pick up a couple of good wins lately. What’s the driving force for success? What does this team look like when they play well?
Sam: It really felt like things were trending up before the 6-0 at LAFC. The Whitecaps have been at their best this season in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and although they don’t need a ton of the ball, they do fair much better when it’s relatively even in the possession battle. Guys like Fredy Montero and David Milinkovic have to be creative forces for the Whitecaps to have success, and if they want to take a step forwards, Lucas Cavallini has to find the target more often.
Mark: Andy Rose will always have a place in Sounders fans’ heart. How is he getting on?
Sam: Andy has been a reliable depth player for the Whitecaps this year in a season where they’ve really needed it. He’s mostly slotted in at centreback, with Marc Dos Santos maintaining that this is where he belonged as a player all along, but he’s also seen a few minutes in the midfield. Whenever Andy speaks with the media, it’s pretty obvious that he would make a great coach after his playing career is over. He’s obviously got the leadership abilities, but his breakdown of the matches from a tactical perspective is usually very astute, and he really seems to enjoy talking about that element of the game as well.
Sam: The Sounders have the best goal difference in MLS overall, and in the Western Conference, no one else is even close. What’s led to that level of dominance for Seattle?
Mark: Seattle’s been able to take a lead in matches and keep their foot on the gas throughout 90 minutes. Of the Sounders’ seven wins this season, six of them have been by multiple goals. Of course, it helps the goal differential to win a match 7-1, as the Sounders did when they beat the Earthquakes.
More than that, the attack is healthy and firing on all cylinders. It’s hard to stop a team from scoring that has Nicolas Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz, and Jordan Morris leading the attack.
Sam: It seems like Brian Schmetzer keeps his tactics relatively consistent from match to match. Can we expect anything out of the ordinary on Saturday? Or will Schmetzer send out his best XI?
Mark: Consistency has been a theme throughout the Sounders time in MLS, which is why they’re so successful. And that’s no different for the way Schmetzer approaches his tactics and lineup. I don’t anticipate much change to the XI for Saturday. It’s the last match that Schmetzer will have his whole team together because of international call ups, so I expect him to roll out his first choice XI.
The only wrinkles I could see involve the left-back position and the right wing. If Joevin Jones is fit, I imagine he’ll start at RW. Brad Smith is back in Seattle and could start at LB, the position at which Nouhou has started most of the matches.
Sam: I talked with Jeremiah Oshan during MLS is Back and it felt like the Sounders were in a bit of disarray, especially defensively. How have they been able to turn things around so resoundingly since then?
Mark: The Sounders defense kinda lives and dies with the form of Xavier Arreaga. We saw him at his worst during the MLS is Back tournament, but he’s been putting in some solid shifts since we’ve returned to games outside of the bubble. The defense has its highest ceiling and lowest floor with him in the lineup. Shane O’Neill has been a very solid option off the bench but he just isn’t as good as Arreaga. But he also doesn’t make the same mistakes.
Arreaga looks like he might be missing up to six games because of international duty. That’s where the trade of Roman Torres makes loads of sense.
I hoped you enjoyed our exchange, and thanks to Mark for doing this. What are your predictions for the match this Saturday night?