Report and Reaction: Four is enough as Vancouver soundly beaten in Seattle

Report and Reaction: Four is enough as Vancouver soundly beaten in Seattle

(Photo Credit: @SoundersFC/Twitter)

In October of 2014 Vancouver fans unveiled word banners in the away supporters’ section before their Whitecaps took on the Sounders in Seattle which read: FOUR IS NOT ENOUGH. It was a message with a double meaning. The previous fall Vancouver had bested the Sounders 4-1 in a match that helped the ‘Caps claim their 4th Cascadia Cup. The night this tifo was displayed Vancouver went on to not only win the match, but also became the first to lift the Cascadia Cup five times. History was not on the side of the visitors in Saturday evening’s clash as the top of the table Sounders hosted the Whitecaps, who were just on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. The hosts reversed that 4-1 score line from so many years ago to maintain their spot on top of the Western Conference standings.

Back in June the Whitecaps fought valiantly to earn a 2-2 draw in Seattle, but so much has changed since then. On that occasion both clubs began the match with different formations than they did tonight, their starting XIs are barely half the same, and of course Vancouver has a new person coaching their squad. One other thing that has changed since the end of June is the trajectory of the Whitecaps. That draw put an end to a five-match losing streak and was when they really started to turn their season around. Since then, they had only lost twice in the League. The thing that hasn’t changed, however, is how dominate Seattle are in this league and they were determined to prove that they are where they belong.

For this match Vanni Sartini only made two changes to the side that easily disposed of San Jose last week 3-0 at BC Place. Both changes were forced upon the interim coach, who maintained the 3-4-1-2 formation he seems to now prefer. The first change saw Thomas Hasal replacing Maxime Crépeau in goal, who is away battling for World Cup qualification with the Canadian Men’s National Team. The other switch brought Patrick Metcalfe into the centre of the back three for the injured (day-to-day) former Seattle Sounder, Andy Rose. Sartini was also unable to call upon Javain Brown (international duty with Jamaica), Lucas Cavallini, Ranko Veselinović, Caio Alexandre (all out with injuries). Included on the bench, for the first time in a while, were the recovering pair of Érik Godoy and Cristian Gutiérrez.

On the other side of the pitch the Sounders made twice as many changes to their starting XI from their last match. Injuries and international matches taking such a large toll on Seattle that they needed to receive special dispensation through the league’s “Extreme Hardship” rule to bring in midfielder Juan Alvarez from Tacoma Defiance, their USL Championship affiliate. Head coach Brian Schmetzer lined his players up in a 3-4-2-1 formation, but was without a number of key injured (Jordan Morris, Nicolás Lodeiro, Jordy Delem and Brad Smith) and away on international duty (Raul Rúidíaz and the Roldan brothers) players. Seattle showed their depth in quality with the likes of Shane O’Neill, Freddie Montero, Will Bruin and Nicolas Benezet all stepping up to play significant roles on the night.

With all of these changes, there was a sense of intrigue around how Vancouver’s 3-4-1-2 would match up with Seattle’s 3-4-2-1. However, it was some pretty basic tactics that saw the game open up early on.

In the fifth minute Seattle won a seemingly innocuous corner when Cristian Dájome deflected a cross from Kelyn Rowe on the right flank beyond the outstretched Hasal and the end line. Seattle had obviously done their homework on the ‘Caps and knew that they mark zonally on set plays. One of the simplest ways to counteract zonal marking is to play a corner short, causing some shifting up amongst the players in the box, before putting in a cross. Seattle did this to perfection.

João Paulo took the corner short to Benezet, who pushed it further back to on the wing to Rowe. Rowe then played a vertical give-and-go with João Paulo before putting in his cross that found the head of O’Neill at the far post. The big Irish American centreback comfortably placed his header back across goal and into the side netting to give the Sounders the lead. The quick, intelligent play off of the initial short corner caused Vancouver to shift out of their zonal assignments and left Patrick Metcalfe alone to mark O’Neill. The young Canadian didn’t read the play well and allowed his opponent to get goal side of him and score from a simple free header. It is one Metcalfe and his teammates would like to have back.

Seattle didn’t rest on their laurels and kept coming at Vancouver. João Paulo nutmegged Leo Owusu at midfield before playing the ball wide to the ever-involved Rowe. Jake Nerwinski made a solid sliding tackle to momentarily prevent the danger and conceded a throw in. It was another simple set play that the Sounders took advantage of.

Rowe’s throw found his team’s large target man, Bruin, just inside the Vancouver 18-yard box. He turned and laid off to Benezet who had made a run the wasn’t followed by Owusu. Benezet took a touch that gave him a shooting lane to the right of Flo Jungwirth and used it, firing home between the legs of Hasal. The Frenchmen choosing an awkward twerking motion for his celebration left a lot to be desired, but Seattle was firmly in control of the match after only 14 minutes.

The Puget Sound club didn’t stop there as they kept piling on the pressure by creating quality chances. The dance moves of Benezet must have spurred him on as he had a flurry of chances in the next handful of minutes. In the 16th he had a shot from a corner blocked by Flo Jungwirth. In the 20th he warmed the gloves of Hasal with an easy strike from inside the box. Only a minute later the ‘Caps ‘Keeper had to dive to his left to get hands to a third attempt from the Montpellier native.

There wasn’t a lot to encourage the Vancouver faithful during the opening 45 minutes, aside from Déiber Caicedo hitting the crossbar against the run of play in the 17th minute and Bruno Gaspar getting booked for taking out Freddie Montero.

However, in the first minute of time added on came a spark of hope.

Dájome made a run through the middle and then linked up with Ryan Gauld in the box to create a shooting chance for the Scotsman. His attempt to squeak one in at the near post was thwarted by Stefan Frei, but the rebound kindly fell to Gauld. He then did what has been the most successful thing for Vancouver in the past month and found Brian White open in front of goal.

The American stabbed it home with the inside of his right foot to score his 10th goal on the season and brought his side back into the game. White is the only ‘Cap to have scored in their past six matches.

The sides returned for the second half unchanged, but for the first few moments it felt like Vancouver were in the ascendancy as they looked for an equalizer.

Failing to really create clear cut chances, the Whitecaps were punished again by some clinical finishing by the Sounders.

After a weak header from Metcalfe, off of a long ball forward from João Paulo, Bruin played the ball into space on the right wing for Rowe. He looked up and picked out Montero with his low cross. The Colombian played a nice pass to the on rushing Bruin who smashed home into the roof of the net at the near post.

With their commanding 3-1 lead, Seattle did take their foot off the gas pedal a bit – although Montero had a goal ruled out for offside in the 70th minute. Vancouver did well to continue to battle away and they need to be given credit for not giving up.

After being booked in the 72nd minute (which means he will be suspended for the Kansas City match), Dájome was robbed by Frei. Gauld had played in the Colombian who struck the ball quite well with his left foot, only to see the Swiss ‘Keeper stick out his left leg to make a massive save.

This chance was followed up a couple of minutes later, but this time Dájome tried to play the role of provider. His low cross from the right was mishandled by Frei and the ball popped up to White right in front of the goal with the whole net begging to be breached. However, the split-second reaction header from White somehow managed to go wide and spared the Sounder’s captain the embarrassment of cheaply allowing Vancouver a way back into the game.

The three points were safe, but Seattle ended up adding an exclamation point to the proceedings.

Substitute Léo Chú scored his first ever MLS goal in the 90th minute. He played a neat one-two from a wide position on the right with Montero. The Colombian’s return pass was a lofted ball over the top that Nerwinski should have dealt with, but Chú outmuscled him before sliding his shot under the right hand of Hasal.

Seattle’s comprehensive 4-1 triumph meant Vancouver’s eight game road unbeaten streak came to an end in Middle Cascadia, but it was only the second loss in 16 league matches for the visitors. While Seattle extended its own unbeaten run to 13 matches versus their Upper Cascadia rivals. The win helped the Sounders clinch their spot in this year’s playoffs – something they have done for 13 straight years or every season they have been a part of MLS. The three points brought the clubs all-time points total to 693 over those 13 years, a total that is higher than any other club during that timeframe. On a regional level it also elevated Seattle to the top of the 2021 Cascadia Cup standings two thirds of the way through the competition.

On this occasion, four was clearly enough. Vancouver now turns their full attention to next Sunday’s 7pm kickoff at BC Place vs Kansas City, the second-place side in the Western Conference.

FINAL SCORE: Seattle Sounders 4 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps

ATT: 31,842

Possession: SEA 47.7% – VAN 52.3%
Shots: SEA 21 – VAN 11
Shots on Goal: SEA 10 – VAN 3
Saves: SEA 2 – VAN 5
Fouls: SEA 9 – VAN 8
Offsides: SEA 3 – VAN 2
Corners: SEA 11 – VAN 3

SEATTLE: Stefan Frei; Yeimar Gómez Andrade, Shane O’Neill, Abdoulaye Cissoko (Léo Chú 90); Kelyn Rowe, João Paulo, Josh Atencio, Jimmy Medranda; Fredy Montero, Nicolas Benezet (Danny Leyva 71); Will Bruin [Substitutes not used: Spencer Richey, Stefan Cleveland, Reed Baker-Whiting, Ethan Dobbelaere, Juan Alvarez]

VANCOUVER: Thomas Hasal; Florian Jungwirth, Patrick Metcalfe (Janio Bikel 71), Jake Nerwinski; Bruno Gaspar, Russell Teibert (Michael Baldisimo 71), Leonard Owusu (Marcus Godinho 71), Cristian Dájome (.Tosaint Ricketts 78); Ryan Gauld; Brian White, Déiber Caicedo [Substitutes not used: Evan Newton, Cristian Gutiérrez, Érik Godoy, Ryan Raposo, Kamron Habibullah]




On a poor start:

“I don’t know. We also work a lot on these set plays that they played because we knew that that they are very good at second phase of set play. And I think that goal kind of destabilized everyone for the first like 15-20 minutes. We were trying to reassure the guys and say ‘stay in the game, stay in the game’, but then we concede the second goal. The second goal was a big mistake because we went men to men when we were supposed to be zonal, and so I don’t know. But I like the reaction, the fact that then we have the reaction and the first half was good after that. And even the second half, even if we consider the third goal, it’s okay to concede a goal against Seattle. They’re a good team. But we had, until the end, until the minute 90, we had much more chances than them in the second half. So, I think the first goal has been a big factor on, let’s say, making us a little shaky for the first 20 minutes.”

On tough upcoming matches:

“We need to step up. We know next game is hard, maybe even harder than today against a great team like Kansas City. Then we have Portland, we have San Jose again. So we need to step up and try to do better, of course. I think today, defensively we didn’t do very well like we did in the previous games. I think that we create a lot of chances, that’s a good thing for the future. And we need to build on from this performance and try to be better against Kansas City. And of course, we’ll rewatch the game, we’ll rethink about it. From Tuesday we’ll go 100 per cent on preparing the next game.”


On the match:

“We expected a different game from ourselves. When you go 2-0 down in Seattle with that crowd and against that opponent, it’s usually a death sentence. But then we came back, we had a great shot from Deiber, really unlucky, and we found better in the game, even though Seattle was still very dangerous. They had chances, but then we came back with a 2-1 halftime, so we felt confident that we can turn it around. Unfortunately, we conceded the third goal pretty early, and then obviously it’s tough. I think still we had big chances for the 3-2. So, if one would have gone in, you never know, but all in all, Seattle won well deserved and that’s what it is.”

On mentality to bounce back:

“I’m not worried about that. I think when we came in the locker room obviously everyone was angry and disappointed. But right away we talked to each other and the focus is already there. Sunday we want to do it better, we play at home. We have a fortress at home and obviously we want to extend the series at home, so I don’t think it will be a problem like mental wise to be prepared for Sunday.”


On the game:

“Yeah, you know, I think, the first 15 minutes hurt us the most. I think it took us a little bit, to really get into the game. Unfortunately they scored two goals in the first 15, but I think after that, the way we ended the half was really strong. Getting a goal right before half, getting back into it was good and unfortunately we couldn’t get that second goal and we gave up that third goal a bit too early.”

On next week’s game against SKC:

“The last six games of the season are not easy. But we know we’re a good team, and we know that we’re really difficult to play at home, so now we get to get some rest, get back home. And it’s always hard for teams to play in BC Place, and I think we’ve proven that this year, our record shows it. So I think we still have all that confidence that we can get the three points.”

Authored by: Zachary Meisenheimer

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