VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Seattle Sounders FC played to a scoreless draw on Sunday night in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals at BC Place, leaving everything to play for heading into next week’s second leg in Seattle.
Here are three things that stood out to me.
In the build-up to Sunday’s match, Carl Robinson said he expected a chess match.
That, it certainly was.
These teams know each other inside out. The ‘Caps know that Seattle likes to build through Nicolas Lodeiro in midfield and get their fullbacks involved in the attack. And the Sounders know that the ‘Caps are lethal off set pieces and the counter-attack.
Neither team was willing to let the other play to their strengths.
The ‘Caps, for example, completed the most successful passes (381) and had the best completion rate (88 per cent) they’ve had all season, which prevented Seattle from getting into any sort of rhythm offensively. On the other hand, the Sounders only conceded six fouls, which didn’t allow Vancouver to create much from set pieces.
Additionally, the ‘Caps were intent on keeping a clean sheet with the away goal rules in effect. If Seattle scored a goal on Sunday, Vancouver would have needed at least two in the second leg next Thursday at CenturyLink Field.
Now a 1-1 draw, for example, would send Vancouver through to the next round.
“In two-legged ties, conceding at home is a no-no,” Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson told reporters after the match. "I learned that two years ago.”
Robinson, of course, was referencing Vancouver’s defeat to Portland Timbers in the 2015 Western Conference Semifinals, in which the ‘Caps drew nil-nil in Portland before falling 2-0 at home in a game that saw the Timbers score an away goal in the first half.
“I watched those two games again,” Robinson said. “I still go back to Koffie and Rivero, who should have scored [in Portland] and they didn’t ... I think Portland scored here with their first chance and we had a mountain to climb.”
On Thursday, Robinson will be hoping the Sounders find themselves in a similar position.
Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera both found themselves on the bench to start Sunday’s match after picking up knocks in Wednesday’s 5-0 win over San Jose Earthquakes. They were both included in the 18-man roster, however, and eventually came on as second-half subs.
The reason for not starting them, Robinson said, was to avoid the risk of an early injury.
“[The fear is] that they’ll come off in five minutes,” Robinson told reporters. “You don’t want to make a sub in the first half. That’s strictly it.”
Instead, Robinson inserted Brek Shea on the left wing and Nosa Igiebor in central midfield, which also slightly altered the team’s approach. Igiebor played a key role in Vancouver’s possession game, completing 31 of 33 passes.
“I would have played the same team [as I did on Wednesday] if those guys were fit,” Robinson said of Reyna and Techera. “But they weren’t … hopefully they’ll be fully fit in four days.”
There were big tackles. Bodies flying. A shoving match. Constant shouting on the sidelines.
At one point, Robinson and Lodeiro even found themselves exchanging a few words – even if they didn’t know what each other were saying.
“He was shouting at me in Spanish. I was shouting at him in Welsh," Robinson said. "God knows who knows what’s going on. I've got tremendous respect for him. He's a really good player. But I was shouting because I thought he was going over too easy and I tell my players not to do that.”
This was a derby match, that’s for sure.
And I’d expect much of the same come Thursday in Seattle (7:30 p.m. PT on TSN5 / TSN 1040).