By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
The Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps have fundamentally different goals at stake when they meet today at BC Place.
At their core, the Sounders’ goals involve climbing, while the Whitecaps want to avoid falling.
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid doesn’t think the nature of those motivations gives either team an advantage in their nationally televised Major League Soccer match.
“Vancouver is a team that needs the win, because they’re in the battle with Dallas, and they want to get themselves into the playoffs,” Schmid said. “… We’ve got the Cascadia Cup. We know these next two games are for the Cup. We want that to stay with our fans. That’s where it belongs, so we want it to stay there. For us, as well, we still have the goal of finishing in second place, and that’s still our goal and that’s still where we want to finish.”
Both clubs remain alive for the Cup, which symbolizes supremacy among the three Northwest MLS clubs. The Sounders (1-1-2 in Cascadia play) can draw even with Portland (2-0-2) with a win today. Meanwhile, anything but a win eliminates the Whitecaps (0-2-2).
The situation in the MLS playoff race is similar. Seattle begins the weekend in fourth place in the Western Conference, but would at least temporarily pass Salt Lake and Los Angeles with a victory today, or pull even with a tie.
Vancouver holds the fifth and final playoff spot in the West. However, the Whitecaps’ two-point lead on Dallas would turn into a one-point deficit with a loss today, combined with a Dallas win at San Jose.
That precarious playoff position once seemed unlikely, as the Whitecaps were 11 points clear of sixth place. However, Vancouver hasn’t won since Aug. 11, and has picked up only one point over the six games since.
Even at that, the Whitecaps’ position is a significant upgrade from their 2011 expansion season, when they finished at the bottom of the table.
“If someone has said to us before the season started that you would be two points up on the sixth-place team with four games to go and three of those at home, I think we’d have snapped their hands off,” club president Bob Lenarduzzi said. “Unfortunately, though, we should have been either clinching or having a bigger gap. But obviously with losing five in a row and drawing on the weekend, we’ve got Dallas breathing down our necks. So, it is still at least within our hands, but we’ve let an 11-point lead erode within the last month or so.”
The respective personnel situations also seem to favor the Sounders. Assists-leader Mauro Rosales is expected to be available again after missing the past three league matches with a quadriceps injury. Goals-leader Eddie Johnson also returns after missing last week because of yellow-card accumulation. Their returns could give Schmid the freedom to write something very close to his ideal starting 11 into the lineup.
“To be able to have Eddie Johnson up front with his speed … (and) to have Mauro’s creativity on the flank takes a little bit of the burden off of (midfielder Christian) Tiffert, as well,” Schmid said. “That just makes us, I think, overall a more well-rounded team and a more dangerous team.”
Meanwhile, the Whitecaps will be without midfielder Dane Richards, who has started 24 games but is out today because of yellow-card accumulation.