(Photo Credit: @Southsiders/X.com)
Vancouver Whitecaps survived a torrid last 20 minutes in Seattle on Saturday evening, defending resolutely to a man as they came away with a huge point in a goalless draw with the Sounders, securing a top seven finish in the MLS Western Conference and guaranteeing at least one home playoff game.
Yohei Takaoka was the hero of the hour, producing a string of top saves, five in total, including a last gasp sprawling save to turn away a Cristian Roldan header deep into stoppage time.
The Whitecaps didn’t register a single shot on goal, but Ryan Gauld was denied by the woodwork midway through the second half, as the visitors came away with a very strong point in their final road game of the season.
Playing their seventh match in 22 days, rotation was the order of the day against for the Whitecaps, with Vanni Sartini making five changes to the starting line-up that secured a playoff place with the win over St Louis on Wednesday night. He also went with a 3-4-2-1 formation for only the fourth time this season, the last of those coming against Seattle back in July.
Seattle came out strong from the first whistle, with Leo Chu proving a real handful for Vancouver with his runs up the left wing, but Vancouver held off the early pressure.
The ‘Caps settled and started to enjoy some possession, getting their best chance of the half in the 22nd minute when Richie Laryea tore up the right wing, centering the ball to Junior Hoilett, who pulled his shot wide.
Leo Chu had a shot on goal through a crowd of players in the 31st minute after the ball ping-ponged around in the box, but Takaoka made a routine save and with no other real goalmouth action in the half, the teams headed in at the break all square.
Seattle again came out fast to start the half, with Leo Chu firing over from a good position in front of goal and Nicolas Lodeiro bringing a comfortable save out of Takaoka with a low one from the edge of the box.
Vancouver again withheld the early pressure and came back into the match and Gauld came within the width off the left post of putting the ‘Caps in the lead, bringing the ball down well, but hitting the outside of the woodwork just past the hour mark.
Cristian Roldan fired one narrowly over from the edge of the box for Seattle in the 71st minute, before Takaoka denied Jordan Morris with a one-handed save from close range eight minute later.
Heber came within inches of winning it for Seattle in stoppage time, with a low shot that just whizzed past the right post. And they came even closer in the dying embers when Takaoka got down superbly to turn away a goalbound Roldan header.
So a share of the points it was and it was a point that secured Vancouver a top seven finish, guaranteeing they’d avoid the play in game and have a best of three series in the first round.
Having booked a playoff place in their last game, and securing a top seven spot this one, all that is left to answer in their final match of the season at home to LAFC is whether they’ll be a top four team with home field advantage and who they’ll be facing. They can’t finish better than fourth, but a win over LA and Houston dropping any points will see that coveted spot secured.
FINAL SCORE: Seattle Sounders 0 – 0 Vancouver Whitecaps
Possession: SEA 58.1% – VAN 41.9%
Shots: SEA 17 – VAN 4
Shots on Goal: SEA 5 – VAN 0
Saves: SEA 0 – VAN 5
Fouls: SEA 12 – VAN 12
Offsides: SEA 1 – VAN 1
Corners: SEA 7 – VAN 4
SEATTLE: Stefan Frei; Alex Roldan, Yeimar Gómez Andrade, Jackson Raegen, Nouhou; Josh Atencio, João Paulo, Cristian Roldan, Nicolás Lodeiro (Albert Rusnák 72’), Léo Chú (Héber 72’); Jordan Morris (Reed Baker-Whiting 87’) [Substitutes not used: Stefan Cleveland, Javier Arreaga, Fredy Montero, Kelyn Rowe, Paul Rothrock, Obed Vargas]
VANCOUVER: Yohei Takaoka; Mathías Laborda (Javain Brown 70’), Ranko Veselinović, Tristan Blackmon; Richie Laryea, Pedro Vite (Ali Ahmed 84’), Sebastian Berhalter, Sam Adekugbe (Ryan Raposo 71’); Junior Hoilett (Alessandro Schöpf 60’), Ryan Gauld; Brian White [Substitutes not used: Isaac Boehmer, Luís Martins, Levonte Johnson, Simon Becher, Russell Teibert]
On the match:
“I think the Sounders are probably the best team we’ve played the entire season. So, the fact that in three games we did a win, a loss and a tie, and the loss was undeserved, speaks volumes about how this team has improved during the year. This team is now mature for the playoffs. Today was a playoff game where, I think, we did very well the first half, having a couple of chances, they had half a chance. We had a fantastic chance with [minute] 65, with Gauldy it’s a goal. But it hits the post unfortunately, and goes just out. The last 15-20 minutes they were throwing everything at us. And unfortunately, I want to say we had three or four potential chances, like one at the end, even before, but we lost a lot of the time the ball in the counter attack. If we would have been a little bit more calm and composed on the ball, doing the right choice, we could probably even scare them more. And then at the end we defended like lions, guys. It was a masterclass by everyone, the back three that started with Mathias, Ranko and Tristan, Javain when he came in, to wingback, Ryan when he came in. We did fantastically, again we did so well. And when you do so well with everyone, then it’s easier even for the goalkeeper to help you and Yohei helped us at the end making a fantastic save, so I’m very, very happy. I’m very happy because we showed the spirit that we have to have in the playoffs, and the spirit that we have to have for LAFC in the last game of the season, trying to clinch one of the top four places that would give us two eventual games at home for the playoffs, and that would be fantastic.”
On what it will mean to have a home playoff match:
“It means everything. Today our fans were fantastic. At the end they were chanting, singing, they sang for 95 minutes. And, you know, I think it’s not by chance that we did two fantastic performances in Portland and Seattle, it’s because our fans were there. So I’m very happy that we can give some playoff soccer to the people in BC Place. I’m extremely, extremely, extremely happy.”
On what the team were expecting from Seattle:
“We expected a tough game, especially since we’ve been talking in the locker room in the second half, that they were going to come much harder. We knew what we could expect, we were waiting for some counter attacks, some chances… we did good at the end to hold it all together, all eleven players tight to defend our goal.”
On what this hard-fought draw will do for the team’s confidence ahead of the playoffs:
“Well, it means a lot, especially now, two clean sheets in a row. These are the types of games that are expected for us in the playoffs. So, for sure it gives us more confidence, gives us more energy to keep going like this into the playoffs, because now we know we’re there, we have that game against LAFC to also prepare us as best as possible to face one of the really good opponents in the playoffs. Because in the playoffs, when it starts, its going to be all games like this in tough environments, tough opponents, good players, with all those types of challenges, and with a lot of tight minutes.”
On the match:
“It was a tough game and we were working hard, defenders had a lot of blocked shots. They played well, so that’s why we kept a clean sheet. Not just this game, they’ve played very well and helped me a lot. Sometimes [we’ve] played bad, sometimes good, but we’ve tried to play consistently from the training.”
On better road form:
“You can see we’ve played with confidence and better than the start of the season. It was tough playing seven away games in a row. We’ve been patient, smart, and hard working, and that’s why we’ve got points.”
On the end of the season:
“My target is to win MLS Cup. This is my target since I came here, so nothing’s changed. We have a chance to win the trophy. Obviously it’s going to be tough games ahead. But we have a very good team, a good squad, and I believe we can make it.”