On Sunday the Vancouver Whitecaps take on the Seattle Sounders. If they can get a win or a draw they will return to the MLS playoffs for the first time since 2017. I want to preface the last sentence of this paragraph with an important piece of context. I am second from the bottom in the staff prediction game this season. I have generated only 9 points from the proceeding 34 games in all competitions (you get one point for the correct result and three for the correct score). I think they are going to pull it off.
The Sounders currently sit in first place in the Western Conference with a plus 20 goal difference. They are really good. But their record is a little bit boosted by not losing any of their first 13 games. Since then things have been more up and down. Granted injuries have been a big reason for that and Seattle have been remarkably resilient to being without key players. But the fact remains, they have been good but not elite lately. Is that going to be enough to get a result on the road against a team that’s ultra motivated and surging? Maybe!
Of course, Seattle now has an almost full squad and they need a win to secure first place in the West. So maybe they have the wherewithal to snatch away the only positive Whitecaps thing in the past 3 years. But over the past couple of months they have been merely good not elite. This is still better than the Whitecaps’ underlying numbers over the past two months but you have to remember that home field advantage. So even if one team is better on paper than the other, the home field team always has a significant advantage built in. Only 5 teams in the whole league have a positive expected goal differential on the road. One of those team is Seattle but only by a very narrow margin.
The point of that long ramble is that Seattle are a beatable side at home. That’s not to say they suck or anything, but there are much worse situations to be in when you need a result to secure the playoffs.
Seattle has played with a back 3/5 in every single match this season so there is a good chance the two teams will be playing the same formation. If there is space anywhere to exploit in that set up, it’s the area between the two central midfielders and the three centre backs. So getting Ryan Gauld on the ball as much as possible will be key for the ‘Caps (when is it not?).
The Whitecaps are going to have to hope that the magic lasts a little bit longer. They have improved under Vanni Sartini, there is no doubt, but the underlying data is clear. This incredible run of results isn’t sustainable in the long run.
So there are two big questions for the Whitecaps: can Brian White and Ryan Gauld land the knockout blow that’s needed to put the ‘Caps into the playoffs? And- Can Maxime Crepeau be the best keeper in the league for at least one more game.
Seattle don’t control a game in quite the same way a team like LAFC do. They average about the same number of shots for as shots against per game. But the quality of their shots are really high. So, rather than one team controlling the game and the other team looking to counter, the game will probably be cagey. Both teams are going to be looking to create a small number of really dangerous scoring opportunities rather than pepper the other team’s goal with shots.
Is there any striker in the league, at the moment, who is better at scoring their one big chance in a game than Brian White? At the other end Will Bruin is listed as out while Raul Ruidiaz is listed as questionable. So the Whitecaps may have the edge in their ability to score goals, even if it’s a very slight one.
In goal there is not much difference between the teams as Stefan Frei is brilliant (and finally healthy) and Crepeau has been incredibly hard to beat over the last two months. Seattle surely has a much stronger midfield and there is not much difference between the respective back threes.
Overall I think Seattle are a better team than Vancouver but not so much better that they can overcome the home field advantage and a Vancouver team that has a lot more to play for.
- OUT: Jordy Delem (right ACL tear)
- OUT: Will Bruin (right knee inflammation)
- QUESTIONABLE: Raul Ruidiaz (left hamstring strain)
- QUESTIONABLE: Jimmy Medranda (right hamstring pain)
- OUT: Caio Alexandre (left foot, fifth metatarsal fracture)
- OUT: Tosaint Ricketts (right calf strain)
Caleb: 2-1 Van
Luis: 2-0 Sea
Ian (currently first place in the prediction game by some distance): 3-1 Van
Sam: 1-1 Draw