Sounders, Whitecaps to settle score in second leg (Nov 02, 2017)
Scoring is no longer optional for the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps in the Major League Soccer playoffs.
Unlike in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series, goals definitely will matter on Thursday in the second and deciding leg at Seattle. The teams got away with not scoring on Sunday in the first leg at Vancouver, a scoreless draw.
But the two-game series will be determined on aggregate goals -- so somebody has to score at least once, barring a penalty shootout.
Both clubs would prefer to produce several goals as they seek to advance to the Western Conference finals and a chance at the MLS Cup.
"I think we just need to score goals as quickly as possible," Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam said. "It's not going to be easy, but we know we have to score at home and try to win, and try to keep (Vancouver scoreless) again. I think that's important."
Winning is mandatory for the Sounders, but not necessarily so for the Whitecaps. In the event of a draw in which each team scores at least one goal, the Whitecaps would take the series on the basis of having scored more away goals. If no goals are scored in regulation or extra time, the game will be decided by penalty kicks.
The Sounders missed an opportunity to capitalize on the away-goals tiebreaker rule Sunday as the Whitecaps played defensive soccer. But neither club is likely to be as cautious Thursday -- at least until a goal is scored.
"If it was a win in Vancouver, it would be different, but I like our chances at home," Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. "We play attacking soccer -- and we're bound to score goals."
The Sounders made scoring look easy in their last regular-season victory over Vancouver in October, a 3-0 decision on the same CenturyLink Field turf where the Thursday game will be played. But the Sounders are not banking on good vibes from that earlier win.
"It's a totally different game," Roldan said. "The playoffs are a totally different season, a totally different animal. They're gonna go into that game not trying to concede (a goal) and playing counterattacking soccer. It's gonna be difficult."
The stats back him up on that claim. In all-time MLS games between the teams, the Sounders have only one more win -- eight compared with seven for Vancouver. The clubs have played to six ties, including the Sunday postseason match, and the Sounders have only outscored the Whitecaps by just 29-26.
During the regular season, the Sounders and Whitecaps went 1-1-1 against each other. The Sounders were 11-1-5 at home in the regular season, and the Caps were a modest 6-9-2 on the road.
"We fancy our chances going home," Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. "I think we're a strong team at home. We've established a really good home record this year, and we're gonna take it to 'em."
Meanwhile, Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said Wednesday that the game could be different based on personnel. The Sounders' top scorer, striker Clint Dempsey, will return after serving a one-game suspension on Sunday because of a red card received in the last game of the regular season against the Colorado Rapids.
Robinson said he is expecting "danger" from the Sounders with Dempsey back.
"Obviously, he's a top player, arguably the best player America have ever had in that position, and (he) plays with his heart on his sleeve -- with an edge, with emotion, which is allowed," Robinson said.
Whitecaps attacking midfielders Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera, bothered by undisclosed health issues, may or may not be able to play the full game after being used as substitutes in Game 1. Robinson was coy about their status on Wednesday.
"Where are their fitness levels? They're touch and go," Robinson said.
Moments later, he added: "They're probably both going to be on the bench, if I have to hazard a guess."
The coach stressed that the Whitecaps will aim to attack more with or without Reyna and Techera.
"Do we just want to sit and defend? No, no, not at all," Robinson said. "That's not our intention."
Robinson believes that in certain periods, the Whitecaps can exploit Seattle's weaknesses. According to the Whitecaps coach, Seattle's status as the favorite also plays into Vancouver's hands, even with a crowd upwards of 60,000 expected.
"This is why you play the game," Robinson said. "It's for Cinderella stories. It's for stories that upset the odds, and we believe we can go into Seattle against a really good team and try to upset the odds."
Both teams will need to ensure that they do not upset the referee after tempers flared Sunday, resulting in skirmishes.
If the game goes to penalty kicks, the Sounders could hold the advantage, considering Frei, a seasoned MLS victory, backstopped Seattle to a shootout victory in last year's MLS Cup final over Toronto FC. Whitecaps goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic is an MLS rookie.
"A couple of times (shootouts) have gone my way," said Marinovic, a 24-year-old New Zealand international. "A couple of times, they haven't. It's a lottery."
Which both the Whitecaps and Sounders will try to avoid by scoring as early -- and as often -- as possible.