Less than 24 hours before Canada takes on the United States in the Gold Cup quarterfinals, the Whitecaps will take on one of their fierce American rivals in Seattle Sounders here at BC Place. The ‘Caps will still be without their trio of international absences but receive the boost of a couple of key players returning from injury in a much welcome trip back home after a quite up and down road swing.
The next week is a pivotal one for the ‘Caps. There are just three matches remaining before the Leagues Cup break, all of them at home. Given that after Leagues Cup they will face the daunting task of eight of their final 12 matches being on the road, getting a little breathing room above the playoff line is an absolute must.
The ‘Caps have spent most of this season in the congealed mess that is the middle of the Western Conference standings, where they sit just three points back of 6th but also just three points ahead of 12th. After a 3-0 humbling at the hands of SKC to end a brief unbeaten run, it’s back to the drawing board in terms of figuring out the way to pull out a big win.
Both Tristan Blackmon and Brian White should be back in action on Saturday as they’ve returned to training, with Blackmon especially a nice sight to see after missing multiple matches due to a heel contusion. Sadly, these incomings are paired with an outgoing as Andrés Cubas has been ruled out with a hamstring strain. With Julian Gressel and Ali Ahmed still away, we might see Pedro Vite as a number eight once again, with Sebastian Berhalter a top candidate to slide in as the deputy number six.
Vanni Sartini has gone back and forth between four and three at the back formations in recent weeks, including time spent playing Luis Martins as part of a back three due to the absences of Blackmon and Javain Brown. Having Martins and Ryan Raposo as your two fullbacks in a back four is not the most stout combination defensively, so especially against an opponent as strong as Seattle I would expect either Mathias Laborda to slide over to right-back or for Sartini to go to a back three.
Up front, Ryan Gauld has really hit his stride offensively in recent weeks with five goals and three assists in his last six matches in all combinations, after no goals and three assists in his first 16 appearances of the season. This has coincided with White continuing his bounce back season, with four goals in his last seven games, while Sergio Córdova is perhaps slowly starting to get there after getting his first goal contribution (albeit a hockey assist) against LAFC two weeks ago. Those three are the likely starters up top, especially if Vite drops back further into the midfield.
Looking at the visitors, the Sounders are coming off a 1-0 home win over Houston last weekend. They’ve been quite strong defensively in recent weeks but also haven’t been scoring a ton themselves: since the ‘Caps beat them 2-0 back in late May, Seattle has seen all but one of their last seven matches finish with a score of either 0-0 or 1-0.
After this match we’ll be two-thirds of the way through the Cascadia Cup matches for this year, and if the Whitecaps win they will take over the lead in the three-team standings with each side having two matches remaining. If they draw, they will be level on points with Portland. It’s also the final home Cascadia match this season so even more of a reason to be up and raring for the win.