Thanks to their current nine-game unbeaten streak, the Seattle Sounders sit atop Major League Soccer’s Western Conference standings.
The defending MLS champions, who travel to play the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday at BC Place in British Columbia, are coming off a dramatic win.
In the fourth minute of extra time, Seattle star Clint Dempsey scored from the penalty spot after a Minnesota United handball to give the Sounders a 2-1 win Sunday.
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It was a narrow escape for a Seattle team that routed the Loons 4-0 in Minneapolis two weeks earlier.
“That was one of the hallmarks of our team last year, we found different ways to win different games,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said after the match, according to the team’s website. “That mindset hasn’t been lost on this group. There are enough guys that took part in what happened last year, there’s enough senior leadership on that team.”
Minnesota led 1-0 before Chad Marshall found the equalizer in the 31st minute. Still, it looked as if the Sounders would have to settle for a home draw against the league’s worst defense.
“We made it very difficult for ourselves,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “Going down a goal is never easy, but overall I think we were casual at times, mentally casual. I won’t knock us for our effort because we worked our butts off, which is great, but I think we just have to be more sharp.”
Seattle (11-7-7) is tied atop the Western Conference standings with Sporting Kansas City but holds the tiebreaker with more wins.
The Whitecaps (10-9-4) currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot in the West, but they lead the San Jose Earthquakes by a single point.
Both teams know what to expect from a rivalry game.
“It was important to keep the momentum going as we go into these rivalry matches. These are huge, huge games,” said Frei, whose team follows the Vancouver game with a home match against the Portland Timbers on Sunday. “Emotions are going to be even higher, and we’re on a bit of a break after that. So, it’s really nothing to hold back.
“In-conference games are huge, and we’re finding ourselves in a really good position on the table but, as we know, things can change quickly. We like where we are and we’d like to stay where we are, so we have to make sure we put in some good performances against Vancouver and Portland.”
Vancouver has won six of its past nine home games, including 2-1 on Saturday over the third-place Houston Dynamo.
“We realize this stretch is very important for us,” Whitecaps midfielder Andrew Jacobson told the Vancouver Sun. “You don’t want to look too long at the standings, but we all know. When you get toward the end of the season, the result becomes more important than the process, and right now, it’s about results.”
The Whitecaps will travel to Orlando on Saturday, followed by four consecutive home games.