VANCOUVER, BC – This one should be fun.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC host Cascadia rivals and defending MLS Supporters’ Shield winners Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday afternoon at BC Place (4 p.m. PT – TSN1).
What should the ‘Caps expect from the Rave Green?
Let’s take a look.
As you can see, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid typically opts for a traditional 4-4-2 formation.
When you take a closer look at the average player positions, though, it’s actually not entirely different than Vancouver’s 4-2-3-1. Clint Dempsey usually plays behind Obafemi Martins as a withdrawn striker (though not necessarily as deep as Pedro Morales) and is flanked by wingers Marco Pappa and Andy Rose/Lamar Neagle – Pappa playing a bit deeper and more central like a Mauro Rosales.
Then, Gonzalo Pineda and Osvaldo Alonso sit in central midfield – with Alonso in a holding role like Matias Laba and Pineda more of a box-to-box player.
You can get a sense of that through the graphic below (which shows the average player positions in Seattle's 1-0 win over Portland last month).
So what does all this mean? Probably that there won’t be a ton of space out there in midfield – not unlike the last two meetings between these Cascadia rivals, which ended in 1-0 wins for Vancouver.
But with the individual talent and attacking firepower on both sides, not to mention the intensity of these derby matches, I suspect we don’t have to worry about the entertainment value one bit.
It’s no secret that Dempsey and Martins are the headliners here, but you may be surprised at just how dominant they’ve been so far this season.
Consider this: one of the two players have scored 13 of Seattle’s 15 goals, including seven in a row. Neagle has the other two.
They are easily the most potent attacking partnership in MLS at the moment. Dempsey, who is averaging over a goal per 90 minutes, is tied for the league lead with seven goals and Martins is right behind him with six. Neither player has ever scored against Vancouver though (knock on wood) – can the ‘Caps keep them off the scoresheet again on Saturday?
EXPOSE THE FLANKS
Last weekend, Seattle fell 3-2 to Columbus Crew and all three of Columbus’ goals originated on the left flank. Sounders FC right back Tyrone Mears played extremely high up the pitch, as you can see below, and the Crew made him pay. Can the 'Caps do the same?
"They just pushed our outside backs forward," said Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid. "And they pushed their outside midfielders in and people kept popping up into spaces. It's something that we'll address as a team. It's a little bit that we played too flat in midfield. I thought we gave away too much space. With the two guys in the middle, I think one guy needs to play behind the other a little bit more. As I said after the game, I think tactically I might have gotten it a little bit wrong and I'll take responsiblity for that. So I'll make sure we're better prepared."
The battle between Vancouver's wingers and Seattle's fullbacks will no doubt be key in this one, but there are going to be some juicy matchups all over the pitch. Here are three in particular that I’ll be watching closely in the middle of the park.
Russell Teibert vs. Clint Dempsey
As mentioned, Dempsey has been on a tear. Not only is he a clinical finisher, he’s also a creative player that combines well with his teammates. Case in point: he has a team-high 15 chances created. The fact that Dempsey plays a little deeper than Martins makes him more the responsibility of Vancouver’s two central midfielders. Something tells me Russell Teibert will be up for this one. The last time these two teams met late last season, Teibert didn’t give Dempsey an inch. He also played a huge part in shutting down Robbie Keane last month. The Canadian midfielder loves a challenge and this will be a big one.
Pedro Morales vs. Osvaldo Alonso
After last weekend’s win over Philadelphia Union, Carl Robinson said: “When [Morales] plays, we play.” The Chilean put on a show against Philly, recording a goal and an assist in a Budweiser Man of the Match performance. Alonso, one of the top defensive midfielders in MLS, will no doubt be looking to prevent that from happening again.
Octavio Rivero vs. Chad Marshall
Whitecaps FC’s star striker Octavio Rivero, who is one goal behind Dempsey and co-leader Kei Kamara in the MLS Golden Boot race, vs. three-time MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall. Enough said.
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