Point to Prove: Recharged Vancouver Whitecaps aiming to use Seattle Sounders clash as ‘proof’ of their abilities (Preview #15)

The Vancouver Whitecaps travel to Seattle to take on the Sounders this weekend, as they look to crawl back into the MLS playoff race. Here is our preview ahead of that one, as the ‘Caps look to get revenge for an earlier season pounding that the Sounders dished out to them. 

After a short break to recharge, they’re hoping to get things back on track this weekend. 

On the back of 2 consecutive losses, the Vancouver Whitecaps had a chance to return home and visit family earlier this week, giving them a chance to take a quick break from the grind that their US adventure has so far offered up.

As they continue their lengthy American journey, all part of MLS’s return-to-play plan, which has seen the ‘Caps displaced to the US for the rest of the regular season, Vancouver is hoping this short break puts them back on the right path. 

“It was good,” ‘Caps veteran, Fredy Montero, said of the break on Thursday. “It’s always a good thing when we have these kinds of windows, it looks small, but it means a lot for us, for our families, just to come back with them, support and try and get away from soccer, but at the end of the day, we had to leave them and be focused on the next 5 games.”

It wasn’t an easy goodbye for everyone, as head coach Marc Dos Santos admitted, but it’ll have certainly raised the morale, giving everyone a chance to reset their minds out of the grind that living away from home can offer. 

“There are things that with this year are very hard to explain, it’s hard,” Dos Santos said. “You guys only see the games, the 90 minutes, and that’s all. It’s not your job to see us live the other part, but it’s been incredibly challenging, the mood in the plane coming back after the two days off with the families was actually very heavy, because a lot of us had kids crying when we left again, because it was a little bit too fast.”

“So I don’t want to name some players, but many players it was heavy for them to come back after just two days, so is it a reset? Yes, but we need some days now to get back to a reality of being here, being away from everyone, so it’s good, every moment we have to see our families, to see our kids, it’s important.”

Now, with their minds back on soccer, a stiff test awaits them on Saturday, as they travel to Seattle to take on their Cascadian rivals, the Sounders. 

With those Sounders currently leading the Western Conference race, it won’t be an easy game for the Whitecaps, who are reeling after back-to-back losses to the Portland Timbers and LAFC. 

After winning consecutive games for the first time in over a year in the two matches prior to those defeats, they lost their way against the Timbers and LA, so they’re hoping that this little reset puts them back on a successful path. 

For Montero, who is very familiar with Seattle, having played for the Sounders from 2009 to 2014, he thinks it’s a good chance for his team to show what they’re truly made of, so he’s excited to take the field on Saturday. 

“It’s a big game,” Montero said. “I always like to play (them), they are right now the first team in the conference, so that’s an excellent motivation to play against the leaders, against a good team, in their stadium, and it’s proof for us to show that we are getting better and that we are a team that’s not afraid to play them.”

And ultimately, that appears to be the theme of the week for Vancouver. After the tough losses, they want to show that they’re the team that was temporarily in a playoff spot 10 days ago, and not the side that has toiled near the bottom of the standings for a better part of 2 seasons. 

It won’t be easy against Seattle, who do hold the mental edge having beaten the ‘Caps 3-0 in Orlando at MLS is Back back in July, but Vancouver is hoping to have learned something from that game, using that intel to try and carve out a surprise victory in the rematch. 

“They’re one of the best teams in the league right now,” ‘Caps full back, Jake Nerwinski, said of Seattle. “We played them in Orlando, and we struggled with them a bit, they beat us, and I think it’s a good opportunity to get revenge on a Cascadia rival, we’re building off of a performance where although we lost, I thought we played well, performed well, and showed some better qualities than we had that game, so going into this week, we have something to prove.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Fredy Montero

Montero goes up for a header in the last time the ‘Caps visited Seattle, back in June of 2019 (Keveren Guillou)

In Seattle, against his former team, having been arguably the best ‘Caps player in the last 4 games, Montero is a marked man ahead of this one, for good reasons. 

As the ‘Caps look to snap a two-game scoreless streak, Montero will be key in helping them do that, both in his chance creation but also his finishing, both of which make him a lethal player in attack. 

Be it as a #10, or up top as a striker, he’s been dangerous for Vancouver in both roles, so look for him to cause some damage to the Sounders no matter where he’s deployed. 

A special shout out goes to Evan Bush, the ‘Caps newly acquired goalkeeper, who is a strong candidate to start, but with his chances of playing not being 100%, we’ve ultimately elected to go with Montero here. 

Storylines:

Don’t beat around the Bush: But speaking of Bush, if he does start, it’ll be a signal of intent from Dos Santos, whose familiarity with the veteran goalkeeper being a big reason for his acquisition, as the ‘Caps deal with a big of an injury crisis Between The Sticks with Max Crepeau and Thomas Hasal likely done for the year. 

Therefore, Bush has a great chance to grab control of the ‘Caps net, which considering he hasn’t played a competitive match in nearly a year, is an opportunity he’ll be very intent on grabbing. 

So if he does play, keep an eye on him, as he looks to prove not only to the Whitecaps but all of MLS that he can still play. 

On the Offensive: If you’re the Whitecaps, scoring an early goal would be huge, especially as they look to stop a 2 game scoreless run. 

While an early goal is something you should always strive for, in the case of the ‘Caps, who are not that long removed from a 4+ game scoreless run, getting that monkey off of they back before it lingers and causes any problems would be huge, hence the need for an early tally. 

Especially against a Seattle team that knows how to sit deep and suck the life out of a game, the last thing you want to do is give up an early goal, as the ‘Caps know very well from their 3-0 loss at MLS is Back, where a 16th-minute Sounders goal killed their chances of winning before the game really got started. 

Playoff race remains tight: While the ‘Caps back-to-back losses hurt, it didn’t leave too much of a dent in their playoff hopes, as only 10 points separate 12th and 1st in the West, which for the ‘Caps, who sit in 10th, is good news. 

A win or draw on Saturday, and things remain as wide open as ever, but with a loss, things will start to open up, so look for the ‘Caps to try and bring the spice in this one. 

It won’t be easy on the road, but if they can pull off an upset, the chaos it’ll bring will certainly be a welcome sight for several teams in the playoff race. 

Stats Splurge:

The big question on Saturday will be: how much can Vancouver see the ball?

As one of the worst teams in MLS when it comes to holding possession, the ‘Caps have only held more than 50% of the ball in 4 of their 14 regular-season games, yet one of those 4 games was the 3-0 loss they suffered to Seattle at MLS is Back. 

Seattle’s a tough one to gauge, as they’re equally as comfortable with the ball as they are without it, so it’ll be intriguing to see how the Sounders line up to try and disrupt Vancouver as much as possible. 

Statistically, this matchup looks lopsided on paper, as the Sounders are the team with the highest Expected Goals (xG) per game in MLS with 1.99, while the ‘Caps are the team who give up the most xG per game with 1.97. 

So seeing that, it’s no surprise that when these teams played, Seattle battered the ‘Caps in xG to the tune of 2.79 to 0.81, so look for them to try and replay a similar trick on Saturday. 

Ultimately, it’s tough to judge the ‘Caps, as their xG against numbers have either been really good or terrible in games, inflating the numbers a bit, but ultimately, that comes down to consistency issues, which against a team like this efficient Sounders machine, could create fireworks. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps: 

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Regular Season Record: 5W-9L-0D

Seattle Sounders:

Head Coach: Brian Schmetzer

Regular Season Record: 7W-3L-3D

2020 Matchup:

Seattle Sounders 3-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward:

All-in-all, this is going to be a very tough matchup for the Whitecaps, on multiple fronts, so it’ll be all about getting whatever they can out of this trip to Seattle. 

Against the Western Conference leaders, away from home, this has every chance of being a disaster, but at the same time, in MLS, that sort of information can tend to not really mean much of anything. 

Therefore, the ‘Caps should do everything in their power to snatch at least a point, if not more, proving a big point to both the Sounders and the rest of MLS. 

It won’t be very easy, but if they can pull it off, they could give a little more bite to their claims of being a playoff-worthy team, which aren’t that outrageous, but lack just a bit of data to back it up. 

They have shown flashes of being a playoff team, but they’ve also shown flashes of being a basement-level team, so ultimately, they just have to find a bit of consistency and show that they’re more of the former than they are the latter. 

And that starts on Saturday, with a very stiff test of those potential playoff credentials. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Seattle Sounders, Saturday, October 3rd, 2020, 19:00 PST (CenturyLink Field, Seattle)

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