Playoff Bound: Vancouver Whitecaps return to MLS Cup playoffs for 1st time since 2017 after dramatic 1-1 draw vs Seattle Sounders on Decision Day

The Vancouver Whitecaps took on the Seattle Sounders in a massive Decision Day clash on Sunday. Here’s what stood out from that one, a 1-1 draw between the longtime rivals, one that allowed the ‘Caps to book their ticket to the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time since 2017. 

It promised to be a special afternoon no matter what happened. 

At a packed BC Place, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders got set to do battle in a massive Decision Day clash on Sunday, one that would have all sorts of implications on both teams’ playoff fates. 

On one side, you had a Whitecaps team looking to return to the postseason for the first time since 2017, something they could do with a win or a draw (or a loss and some other favourable results), while on the other you had a Seattle team already in the playoffs, but looking to finish 1st in MLS’s Western Conference, giving them a bye to the 2nd round. 

In front of the biggest Vancouver sporting crowd since the pandemic, this game seemed destined to be one to remember even before the ball kicked off, and boy, did it ever deliver. 

Boosted on by the sort of noise that hasn’t been heard in BC Place in years, the ‘Caps did what they needed to do in order to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2017 season in this game, as they picked up a 1-1 draw against the Sounders, allowing them to finish 6th in the West, putting them in one of the top 7 spots that you must be in at the end of the year in order to make the playoffs. 

“It was fantastic,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said of the atmosphere after the game. “You know, that’s the reason why we do this thing, it’s to share the beautiful moment with the fans and to receive from them the relation and to really have a fantastic moment with them and it’s also our way to thank them. If we are in the playoffs, the fans played an enormous role.”

So while it might not have been the victory that the ‘Caps would’ve loved to end the campaign with, but it pretty much felt like it, as they finally achieved a goal that they worked so hard all year to make happen, and that’s to play in the postseason. 

Now, thanks to this result, they get to do that, as in 2 weeks time, they’ll travel to Kansas to take on Sporting Kansas City in the 1st round of the playoffs, which to anyone who’s followed the team this year, feels wild to even put out there, yet it’s real. 

But that’s this ‘Caps team for you. It took a run of all runs to make happen, as they had to pick up points in 22 of their last 25 games just to make it over, but they made it happen, so now, they can keep their dream of possibly lifting MLS Cup alive. 

Against a team that they hadn’t beaten in 13 games heading into this game in Seattle (which technically extended to 14 games with this draw), 9 of those games losses, for the ‘Caps to come out and not only pick up the point, but be full value for it (and more) is key, but that just shows in which direction they’re currently trending. 

So while they’ll be in tough against SKC in this 1st round of the playoffs, especially considering their road history against them, they’ve proven to be a team that is scared of no one these days, and this game was just the latest example of that. 

In front of their home fans, with everything on the line, they came up big when needed, and that allowed them to get to where they wanted to be, marking a memorable Sunday afternoon at BC Place. 

And boosted on by the home crowd, the ‘Caps would get off to a pretty bright start to this game, too, allowing them to push towards their desired result. Knowing what a goal would do for them, they pushed forward, and came close on a few occasions, including a Cristian Gutierrez sighter from distance that went just wide in the 2nd minute, and a Brian White header on a corner that went just over the goal in the 3rd minute. 

But then, disaster struck for the hosts in the 8th minute. A nice Seattle corner kick bounced around in the box and then hit a Vancouver hand, and from there, the referee, Fotis Bazakos, didn’t hesitate to point to the spot, giving the Sounders a penalty. 

From there, the former Whitecap, Fredy Montero, stepped up, and he cooly slotted home his spot-kick, giving his team a crucial lead, one that’d put them in a great position heading into the rest of the match. 

Thanks to that goal, they’d start to play with a bit more freedom, too, as they continued to try and add to their lead. And to give them credit, they’d then come close to doing that in the 18th minute, as Kelyn Rowe had a good sight at goal in the 18th minute, but his shot would be too central, finding itself too close to Maxme Crepeau in the Whitecaps goal. 

Sensing that push, though, the ‘Caps then found their breakthrough in the 21st minute. 

After a lovely ball into the box from Gutierrez, White did well to get up for it, and he managed to redirect it over to an incoming Ryan Gauld, and from there, the ‘Caps DP #10 did the rest, getting up to the ball and heading it home off of the post and in, tying the game back up for the ‘Caps. 

It was a massive goal for the ‘Caps, who with the tally, would be able to get back into the game with plenty of time to spare, allowing them to regain control of their playoff destiny with 70 minutes to go. 

But while that was certainly the case, Seattle continued to threaten at the other end, and they came quite close to regaining their lead in the 25th minute, as Brad Smith did well to find a wide-open Montero in the box, and the Sounders striker made great contact on the cross, but he’d be robbed by a fantastic save from Crepeau, who managed to just get his fingers to the effort. 

Soon after, Cristian Roldan then had a good look at goal for Seattle in the 34th minute, as he did well to open up space for a shot, but his shot would be kept out by a huge block from Cristian Gutierrez, who did well to get across to stop what seemed like a sure goal. 

Other than that, though, that’d be all that the first half would have to offer, as both teams were left to head into the break all tied up, leaving them to chase a potential winner in the second half. 

For the ‘Caps, it wasn’t a bad position to be in, as they sat in a playoff spot as things stood, but for Seattle, you had to wonder if they’d come out firing, knowing that they could book a 1st-place spot with a victory. 

But despite that, the ‘Caps would continue to be the team to push for a winner, and they’d come quite close in the 51st minute, as Gutierrez made a great run down the left side, and he whipped in a lovely ball to a wide-open White, and White would make good contact on the header, but he sent his attempt just wide of the mark, much to the relief of the Sounders. 

After that, however, the game would die down, as neither team seemed to really find much of a breakthrough, with defence becoming the name of the game. Because of that, the next good chance didn’t come until the 78th minute, as Rowe got a good look at goal from outside of the box once again, but much like his earlier attempts, he wouldn’t be able to do much with it, this time sending his shot well over the goal. 

A few minutes later, though, the ‘Caps then got a great look of their own in the 82nd minute, as Gauld did well to find Ranko Veselinovic on a corner, and the ‘Caps centre back made great contact on his header, but he’d only be denied by a fantastic last-ditch block by Montero on the Seattle line, as the attacker made sure to come up big with a nice defensive play. 

Then, though, the game had its most dramatic moment right in the 92nd minute, and it was one that nearly changed everything for the ‘Caps. Having found himself all alone in the box off of a corner, Montero seemed likely to score a sure winner, and he’d send a good shot towards goal, one that seemed destined to find the back of the net. 

5 minutes earlier, it would’ve meant nothing, as the ‘Caps were into the playoffs no matter what happened based on how the results were stacking up, but given that Real Salt Lake had just scored in their game vs Sporting Kansas City, that all of a sudden meant that if the ‘Caps conceded, they’d find themselves eliminated. 

So knowing that, to see Crepeau come up with a massive save in that moment was game-changing, as it ensured that the ‘Caps would stay in a playoff spot, keeping them afloat. 

And after that, other than a small brawl that ensued in the aftermath of that save, that’d be all the game would have to offer, so it truly was a season-saving save, one that ensured the ‘Caps would make it to the playoffs. 

After all of their hard work to get to that point, it would’ve been so cruel to see them lose it in that fashion, but seemingly a team of destiny at the moment, everything just managed to line up for them at the right moment, and that save was just another example of that. 

Because of that, it now allows them to shift their attention to something that they haven’t had a chance to think about in ages, and that’s a playoff game, which is something that they’ll certainly have to now start thinking about when the hangovers of their post-game celebrations from this game wear off. 

Heck, since they last made it this far in a season, the playoff format was completely different, which shows how long it’s truly been for the ‘Caps, who will want to relish this moment. 

So for now, they’ll look to enjoy that, all while shifting their attention to the next challenge that lies ahead, as they try and continue their campaign of destiny, one that they’ve been able to do thanks to their strong togetherness, which was on full display in this one. 

“Yeah, I would say it’s like the closest changing room I’ve been in,” Gauld said after the game. “Everyone gets on with everyone. Everyone’s wanting to fight for each other. It’s a great change room to be a part of, that definitely helps you out on the pitch. When there’s times when someone’s beaten, another boy’s there to help you.”

“So I think it’s been a huge, huge factor in us putting together good results and managing to get into the playoffs.”

Player of the Match: Ryan Gauld

Gauld celebrates his goal vs the Sounders on Sunday (Keveren Guillou)

Speaking of the playoffs, one guy who played a massive role in this push was Gauld, and this game was no exception, as he picked up the crucial goal that even made a draw possible, which came all part of a very solid performance for him. 

Sensing the grandeur of the occasion, he seemed to find another gear, doing his best to throw his team on his back and carry them as far as he could, and seeing the result, he most certainly succeed in his efforts. 

Yet, it was just another night at the office for Gauld, who has been that guy for the ‘Caps offensively since he came in, showing why the team paid the big bucks to acquire his services.  

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Maxime Crepeau

Crepeau celebrates during the game against Seattle on Sunday (Keveren Guillou)

And speaking of guys that helped the ‘Caps make it this far, while Gauld certainly helped with the late push, Crepeau was the reason that a push was even possible in the first place, as he’s been so key right from game #1, and this game was yet another example of that. 

From his clutch saves, to his passionate leadership, he seems to leave everything out on the field, and knowing how important this game was to his team, that’s what he did once again. 

On a day where he actually picked up the Whitecaps MVP award as his team’s most important player, he most definitely lived up that moniker during this game, and the ‘Caps will be quite grateful for that.

Moment of the Match:

Not much to be said here, other than, wow, what a crowd it was at BC Place in this game, and this clip of them singing the new ‘Caps victory song was one heck of a way to top off a memorable night for those in attendance. 

Afterthought of the Match: 

One forgotten aspect of today’s game, though? The Seattle Sounders actually won the Cascadia Cup with this result, leaving them to lift a trophy at the end of the night. 

So while it felt like an afterthought considering all else that was at stake in this game, it was a nice moment for them, as they got to mark the return of the trophy after the pandemic in a nice way with their fans, which is why it exists in the first place. 

Heatmap of the Match:

Otherwise, a look at the heatmap section actually looks pretty decent for the ‘Caps, which is a nice surprise after a tough game here against LAFC. 

Not only did they get some decent coverage on offence, where they got into the Sounders box on a few occasions, but they also did well to keep their opponents out of the dangerous areas, making for an overall solid game here. 

At a time where they needed a game like this, they came up big with a solid performance, and this section was an example of that. 

xG Plot of the Match:

Lastly, another indication of the ‘Caps decent performance was in the Expected Goals (xG) plot, which wasn’t as good as the heatmap, but certainly was solid. 

Yes, the Sounders won the xG battle, but they did have a penalty to boost those numbers, which does change things, showing that the ‘Caps actually defended quite well. 

So while they were a little quieter offensively than they would’ve liked, that they had a pretty even game against the top team in the West (at least heading into this game) is a good sign, and helps explain how they were able to carve out this result. 

Looking Forward: 

Now, having gotten the job done, at least in terms of getting to the playoffs, the ‘Caps will get a few days to recharge before getting right into their preparations for their next game, that clash with SKC. 

Obviously, they’ll be happy just to be in that game, of course, but seeing how good they’ve been as of late, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t believe that they have what it takes to win it, either, so it’s important that they prepare for it accordingly. 

Having already done all this work just to get into the big dance, they’ll want to make sure that they actually get some good dancing in, something they’ll get a chance to do in a few weeks’ time. 

As they showed in this game, when the stakes are high, this ‘Caps team seems to thrive in that energy, and they’ll want to try and ride that momentum into a potential playoff victory and beyond. 

“You know, us getting into the playoffs, hopefully that’s just the start for us,” Gauld said. “We don’t want to carry on and two weeks time be going home. We need to be going to try and get through the next round. So you know, the team always come first and that thought is really through the team.”

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Sporting Kansas City, TBD

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