Vancouver Whitecaps

Match Preview: Whitecaps look to bounce back vs. Sounders in Cascadia clash

The Vancouver Whitecaps hit the road again, but won’t have to go far Saturday as they head down to Seattle for a Cascadia derby.

The Seattle Sounders’ 2024 has not gone according to plan, sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference and having to wait a month into the season to notch their first win of the year.

Injuries have hurt Seattle, with their dynamic new signing, Pedro de la Vega, picking up a hamstring injury in one of his first matches with the club. The loss of one of their main attacking options has underscored the biggest problem for the Sounders: putting the ball in the net.

Some of this has been caused by either poor finishing, bad luck or both — their actual goal output sits three goals below their expected goals and they are one of the top sides in the lead in big chances missed. 

In only two matches this season have Seattle scored multiple goals (including their 5-0 pounding of Montreal a couple weeks ago) and Raul Ruidiaz is the only player on their roster who has notched multiple goals this year.

Brian Schmetzer has returned to the 4-2-3-1, with Albert Rusnak in the 10 position engineering the 5 goal triumph against Montreal. Neither Jordan Morris or Cristian Roldan have reached their typically high level of performances but the switch back to what has historically been Seattle’s most dangerous tactical outlook has paid (a small amount of) dividends.

But a 0-0 draw against FC Dallas last weekend may have brought things back to earth, with a conservative Sounders side unable to win on a night when Dallas created very little going forward.

That does point to one of the strengths Seattle has: the trademark defensive solidity that has frustrated Vancouver in the past and will likely continue to pose challenges, as Vanni Sartini’s men still need to prove they can consistently unpick teams that defend well and deeply.

Seattle sits near the top of the league in most defensive categories. Joshua Atencio has been playing like an elite defensive midfielder and the backline remains stout, led by young Jackson Regan, who has firmly cemented himself as one of the league’s top CBs.

Simply put, I have a hard time writing off a Sounders team from the playoff picture, particularly given how mediocre the Western Conference is. De la Vega appears to be nearing a return from injury and could make an appearance as soon as this weekend and while Schmetzer has as many questions circling about his tactical choices as any point in his tenure as head coach, there is also a reason many people (myself included) had them as the favourite in the West.

There are some warning signs for the Whitecaps as well. Seattle has been far better at home than on the road and it has been eight years since Vancouver won on the road there (for reference, Pedro Morales scored both goals that night). 

Fafa Picault appears to have escaped serious injury after sustaining back spasms in the first half of last week’s match against LA Galaxy but he will miss the Seattle match, presenting Vanni with some questions. Will he push Ali Ahmed further up the pitch and start Sam Adekugbe? Will Damir Kreilach return to the starting XI? And what should be done with Alessandro Schopf, who has continued to look good as a wingback. The answer to these questions will shape how aggressively the Caps try to play against a Sounders team that had a lot of the ball last week in Frisco but couldn’t do much with it — the Caps’ favourite kind of opponent.

I’m always pessimistic headed into an away Cascadia match and despite Seattle’s rather ponderous start to the season, this game is no different.

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