Short Turnaround: Despite likely changes, ‘confident’ Vancouver Whitecaps aiming to surprise Sounders (Preview #21)

Fresh off of a big victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on the weekend, the Vancouver Whitecaps take on the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday. Here is our preview for that one, as the ‘Caps look to avoid a sweep at the hands of their Cascadian rivals. 

On such a short turnaround, a stiff task awaits. 

For the Vancouver Whitecaps, who are fresh off of beating the San Jose Earthquakes for the first time in over 2 seasons this past Saturday, to have to play their next game against the Seattle Sounders this Tuesday is going to be a very tough test for them. 

With only 2 days of recovery between the games, the ‘Caps will have to go deep into the reservoir to conjure up some gas, making this a tough fixture. 

Considering that the Sounders’ last game came last Thursday, likely allowing them to play their regular lineup as they had 4 recovery days in between, something that Vancouver probably won’t be able to do, this game promises to be a challenging one for the ‘Caps. 

At the same time, Vancouver, winners of 3 of their last 4 games, will feel confident heading into this one, even though they know that fatigue is something they’ll have to manage. 

“Yes, the message is the same, but the circumstances are very different,” head coach Marc Dos Santos said on Monday. “They play with five (4 full) days of recovery and we play with two (full) days of recovery. We’re forced to make changes, and to rotate a lot, and that’s the difficult part.”

So for the ‘Caps, it’ll be all about consistency in this game, something they’ve actually done a pretty good job at maintaining in their last 4 games. 

They’ve been a lot tighter defensively, only conceding 4 times in those games, scoring 6 goals along the way. 

For a team that is currently rocking a -17 goal differential for the season, to go through a stretch where they’ve mostly been on the positive side of the ledger is huge, so they’ll be looking to build off of that in this game. 

While squad rotation is going to happen, as Dos Santos alluded to earlier, the ‘Caps should still be able to keep a strong defensive shape, something that’s allowed them to pick up some victories as of late. 

Some of the voices may change, but not the overall message, something that likely starting goalkeeper, Evan Bush, made sure to stress on Monday. 

“Just as important as it is any game,” said Bush, who’s started the last 5 games for Vancouver. “When you rotate a team, whatever that looks like tomorrow, you have guys that are eager to make a case for themselves, and that’s a good thing too. We got to the end of that last trip, in the game at LA Galaxy you could see that there was a lot of tired legs and mental exhaustion as well. So we’re relying on guys that come to work the same way that every other guy comes to work during the week and training and stuff like that.”

“Those guys will be confident, and I’ve learned over the years that over-communicating to guys that haven’t played a whole lot in recent games isn’t always the best thing either, because that can make them feel a little bit tense, as opposed to letting them feel a little bit more free and like you have confidence in them. You have to find that balance, it’s important, so it’s more of a structural communication and keeping our shape and stuff like that I’ll be preaching, and then just trying to build confidence in the guys that otherwise might not have had the rhythm that some of the other starters have had recently.”

And heading into this game, the ‘Caps will know exactly what they’re up against in Seattle, especially considering this is the 3rd time these two teams have met this season. 

In those 2 games, the ‘Caps have gotten battered by a combined score of 6-1, but they now know exactly what Seattle looks to do on the pitch, giving them more of a chance to gameplan. 

Considering they’ve got 2W-0L-0D in games this season where they play a team for the third time, having added to that record with their win over the Earthquakes on Saturday, they’ll feel confident that they can snatch a result, even if it won’t be easy against the Sounders, who currently sit 2nd in the Western Conference as of writing. 

In some cases, familiarity can be helpful, and from what we’ve seen, they’re really familiar with what the Sounders can do at their best, giving them more intel into how to stop it. 

“Whenever you play a team three times, the first two matches don’t matter anymore, they don’t count for anything,” Veteran midfielder/defender and former Sounder, Andy Rose, said on Monday. “So the focus very much needs to be on the future and this upcoming game, similar to our mindset against San Jose the other day. What did we learn from those games? Obviously, they have a lot of weapons on the pitch going forward, their ability to rotate and midfield with Nico Lodeiro’s ability to pop up in different pockets and especially drift into wide areas trying to create three v twos on the wings.”

“Whether it’s (Gustav) Svensson or Joao Paulo in midfield, their vision to switch the ball and hit that long diagonal over the top for Jordan (Morris’s) pace, whether it’s Will Bruin or (Raul) Ruidiaz, they have options that are good in the 18-yard box. So, without a doubt, a very organized group that has been together for a long time.”

With so much at stake for Vancouver, any sort of points would go a long way, and while this isn’t a must-win like the last game was, this is definitely a chance for them to get a leg up on their quest to make the playoffs. 

It won’t be easy, especially not with a heavily-rotated squad, but they know exactly what they’re up against, giving them every chance to plan how to best get after these Sounders. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Janio Bikel

Bikel goes in for a ball in a clash with Portland last month (Craig Mitchelldyer/MLS)

While it’s hard to pick a player to watch given the possibility for roster turnover, we’ll take a stab at it, with Bikel our man to keep an eye on in this one. 

When Bikel plays this year, the ‘Caps have a record of 6W-3L-0D, compared to 2W-9L-0D without him. That’s a stark difference. 

So expect him to play in this one, and if he plays as he did against San Jose, that’ll be good news for a ‘Caps team who seem to be at their best when he is. 

Storylines:

Avoid the triple threat: As mentioned earlier, the ‘Caps were successful in the other 2 games where they had to play a team for the 3rd time this year, winning both games. 

And much like in those 2 games, which were against San Jose and Toronto FC, they come into this game having lost both of their previous 2 matches against Seattle this year. 

Can they avoid the triple once again? Good things tend to come in three, so it certainly wouldn’t be off-brand if they were able to. 

Comeback season? The ‘Caps win over the ‘Quakes was only the 2nd time this year that the ‘Caps have conceded first and won, as they’ve tended to fall out of games when they allow the first goal. 

As they learned last time out against Seattle, where the Sounders blitzed the ‘Caps with a 12-minute flurry in which they scored 3 goals, that sort of comeback may be a little harder to come by in this game. 

So it’ll be paramount the ‘Caps score first in this one, because if not, it feels like against this well-drilled Seattle team, chasing the game could turn into an exercise of futility quite quickly. 

Home Sweet Home: With the win over San Jose, the ‘Caps record versus non-Portland opponents at Providence Park this season improved to 5W-0L-0D (preseason and regular season), so they’ll look to extend that stat in this one. 

For whatever reason, the ‘Caps have really taken to Providence Park this season, as they’ve really turned it into a sort of ‘home away from home’, at least on the field. 

But this may be their stiffest test yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if the ‘Caps can keep up this home-field advantage, or if their Cascadian Rivals, Seattle put an end to this nice run of games in the Rose City. 

Stats Splurge:

If you’re the ‘Caps, this game will be all about surviving, especially when you dive into the advanced analytics. 

The Sounders are first in MLS in terms of Expected Goals (xG) per game with 1.93, as well as first in terms of xG against with 0.97, which shows how good they’ve been at generating chances at one end and limiting them at the other. 

When you consider that the ‘Caps are 4th-worst in xG for with 1.07, and are last in xG against with 1.88, you can see why this game has to be a worry for them, especially when you consider that they’ll have to heavily rotate their squad. 

While the ‘Caps struggles in that area have mostly been down to their ‘go big or go home’ approach, which has seen them struggle massively in some games only to look really good the game after, it’s still a worry. 

At the same time, considering that the Sounders have won the combined xG battle 6.54-2.04 over the first two meetings, the ‘Caps will have a lot on their plate in this one. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps: 

Regular Season Record: 8W-12L-0D (24 PTS)

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Seattle Sounders: 

Regular Season Record: 9W-4L-5D (32 PTS)

Head Coach: Brian Schmetzer

2020 Matchups:

Seattle Sounders 3-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward:

So without a doubt, this won’t be an easy matchup for the Whitecaps. 

But at the same time, they head into this one on a bit of a roll, and have been full value for their money whenever they’ve played at ‘home’ as of late. 

And considering the volatility of results in MLS, it’s hard to count them out just yet, even though that’s what prevailing wisdom might say. 

Knowing how big a surprise result could be for them, the ‘Caps will fight tooth-and-nail to get there, now it’s just to see if they got the reinforcements necessary to pull that off. 

We’ll find out tomorrow, as this installment of the Cascadian Derby gets underway once again. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Seattle Sounders, Tuesday, October 27th, 2020, 19:00 PST (Providence Park, Portland) 

Cover Photo via: Matthew Stith/MLS

Advanced Stats via: American Soccer Analysis

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