SEATTLE, WA – One game. Winner goes to the Western Conference Championship.
Loser goes home.
That’s what’s at stake on Thursday night when Vancouver Whitecaps FC visit longtime rivals and defending MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders FC in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals at CenturyLink Field.
KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m. PT | TV: TSN 5 | RADIO: TSN 1040
BROADCAST INFORMATION: The full match will be broadcast live on TSN5. It will also be shown on TSN3 following the conclusion of the Winnipeg Jets vs. Dallas Stars NHL game (approximately 7:45 p.m. PT) and joined in progress on TSN1 following the conclusion of the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets NFL game (approximately 8:30 p.m. PT).
Here are the key storylines to watch.
ALL TO PLAY FOR
After a scoreless draw in the first leg, the ‘Caps know that any win – or a draw in which a goal is scored – on Thursday will send them through to the Conference Championship for the first time in club history. Another scoreless draw, meanwhile, would result in extra time and, if needed, a penalty shootout.
You can expect some drama, either way.
“Everyone’s probably predicting that they’ll beat us,” Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson said on Wednesday. “We’ve got nothing to lose. I said that going into this series. They are clear favourites. We know that. It’s not lying, I’m not trying to spin anything. They are.”
“This is why you play the game,” Robinson added. “It’s for Cinderella stories. For stories that upset the odds. We believe we can go to Seattle, a really good team, a good organization, and upset the odds. We’re going there to try and win the game.”
REYNA, TECHERA ‘TOUCH AND GO’
Robinson reiterated on Wednesday that Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera are “touch and go” for Thursday. Both players, who came off the bench Sunday in the first leg against Seattle, are nursing injuries sustained last week.
“If I would have played them on Sunday, they would have 100 per cent been out of this tie,” Robinson said. “It was the right decision. If it was our last game, I would have risked them, but I couldn’t afford to risk them. They’re probably both going to be on the bench if I had to hazard a guess.”
Reyna and Techera combined for 12 goals and 11 assists during the regular season.
TENSIONS RUNNING HIGH
Tensions nearly boiled over towards the end of the first leg, as a shoving match found both clubs in violation of the league’s Mass Confrontation Policy.
It is a derby match, after all.
“Listen, there are emotions," Robinson said. "We’ve got a lot of respect for each other as clubs and managers and players. We just go again. And they’ll be one winner. And one loser.”
Whitecaps FC captain Kendall Waston, for his part, said he “absolutely loves” the physical nature of these sorts of matches – even if a collision with Tony Tchani in the first leg left him with a completely swollen left eye. Don’t expect that to affect his availability on Thursday, though.
“Even if I have to play with one eye, I could play,” he said. "I'm going to try to defend for my life."
After serving a one-match suspension in the first leg, Clint Dempsey will be back in Seattle’s starting lineup on Thursday. The U.S. national team striker had a team-high 12 goals this season to go along with five assists, including helpers in each of Seattle’s final two games of the regular season.
He’s a game-changer, that’s for sure.
“He’s a top player,” Robinson said. “Arguably the best player America have ever had in that position. Scores goals, plays with his heart on his sleeve, with an edge, with emotion, which is allowed. He’s going to be a real danger. We need to stop him. We need to stop [Nicolas Lodeiro] drifting into little pockets. We know it’s going to be a good test. But that’s why we’re in the playoffs. It’s for big games, big tests, against big teams. We deserve to be there and we’ll certainly give it our best.”