Stopping the Sounders is elementary for Whitecaps' Waston (Oct 29, 2017)

October 28, 2017

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- When it comes to maintaining his discipline in the Major League Soccer playoffs, Vancouver Whitecaps captain Kendall Waston is making no promises.

"In (soccer), you have to play with a lot of heart, passion, so there (are) a lot of things going on that you can not control," Waston said with a chuckle after a training session Saturday.

But Waston stressed that he will be focusing on fine details Sunday when the Whitecaps host the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series. And, he wants his team to do likewise.

"We have to have a clean sheet, absolutely, because they are closing at home, in their house," he said, alluding to the fact that away goals will be the first tiebreaker in the two-game, total goals series. "So we know that, (if) we win here, anything can happen over there."

Chances are that Waston will make things happen for the Whitecaps. A central defender, he scored a key goal in Wednesday's 5-0 blowout of the San Jose Earthquakes in the knockout round. He has been dominant on set pieces and also stood out defensively -- while some of his back-line teammates broke down -- late in the regulation.

Waston, 29, suggested that he has been riding a wave since scoring an added-time goal for Costa Rica in October that enabled his country to clinch a 2018 men's World Cup berth. But his "main thing is to defend," so he will devote most of his attention to stopping Seattle forwards, even though the strikers will play without suspended top scorer Clint Dempsey.

The star striker took a red card in the Sounders' regular-season finale against Colorado, but Waston said the Whitecaps will not have an easier time, considering that they must still defend the likes of Osvaldo Alonso, who has been bothered by a quadriceps strain but appears likely to play, and Nicolas Lodeiro.

"But, obviously, Dempsey brings a different style in their team," Watson said.

According to Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson, Waston, who had a penchant for bad fouls and yellow cards in the past, has been a different player since he was appointed captain this season following the departure of Pedro Morales, who preferred life outside of the spotlight.

"Over the year, he's evolved as a captain, and now the guys know nothing else," Robinson said. "He is a true leader of the team."

It remains to be seen who will lead the Whitecaps offensively Sunday. Key midfielders Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera had their activities reduced at times Saturday. Robinson said their status will be determined Sunday, without elaborating on whether they have health issues that could prevent them from playing.

But Robinson did point out that, unlike against San Jose, his team will be the underdog in this series.

"I think (the Sounders) are gonna be favorites, and we know that," Robinson said. "They're the reigning champs, and deservedly so. What we've gotta try and do is give them a game over two legs. We know we'll get our moments in games. We've gotta be switched on."

Meanwhile, the Sounders hope to turn off Vancouver's strong set-piece and counter-attacking abilities.

"They have size when Waston comes up top, and the other guys are very powerful, and they also have guys who can go indirect for two goals," Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei told reporters this week. "They're more than capable of doing that."

The Sounders have acknowledged that they are the favored squad. Seattle placed second in the Western Conference while the Whitecaps wound up third, but the clubs split their matches during the regular season.

In their last regular-season meeting, the Sounders blanked the Whitecaps 3-0 at home. But, earlier, the Whitecaps earned a 2-1 victory at home and the clubs also fought to a 1-1 draw on the same BC Place Stadium pitch where Sunday's game will be played.

"It's going to be difficult," Frei said. "They're very lethal up top, very efficient up top. They're a good counter team. They're crafty. They're a good side, so we're gonna have to be ready -- but we believe in our ability and we're gonna try to play our game."

The Sounders' strong 11-1-5 home record was offset by a modest 3-8-6 road record. But Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer does not want his club to be too cautious in Vancouver.

"You can't go crazy because it's not a one-game series," Schmetzer said. "But if you play conservative, sometimes you can get burned that way, too -- so, there's a fine balance there."