Saturday, April 15, 2017

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Seattle Sounders: On Keeping the Dam Whole

Like this, only shoved into a dam.
More games should end like this one did. The Seattle Sounder pushed against the Vancouver Whitecaps’ defense with what looked like the pressure of water pouring through a crack in a dam, but the defense held using the familiar tactic of stuffing body after body after body into the crack (again, soccer shows the way; we can only pray that hydro-engineers will listen) and the ‘Caps held on to beat the Sounders 2-1. When it wasn’t David Ousted (who’s doing better, even if he’s still shaky by his former standards), it was Tim Parker and Kendall Waston. Or even Sheanon Williams.

From the Seattle Sounders standpoint, though, they need to ask themselves why they held back for as long as they did. Seattle can answer that however they like, but I’d like to nominate a one-word answer: complacency. Vancouver started as the visibly weaker team; Seattle, meanwhile, looked fluid and comfortable, their players moving the ball easily in a way that showed a shared understanding of where the other players should be and where they want the ball. As Vancouver eased into the game – aka, once they stopped just passing the ball to the touchline or even the nearest Sounder – they started to take it over. What’s more, ‘Caps players started picking off Seattle’s passes – and that’s how Seattle’s strength – i.e., knowing where to find their players – became a weakness. It got to where Vancouver’s players knew where to find them too.

Seattle took too long to adjust; their late dominance might have been an illusion, the product of Vancouver bunkering to defend their lead (and was that the right choice? Did weary legs dictate the choice?). And I think that’s what I mean by complacency: it’s the theory that Seattle (perhaps like the Portland Timbers in 2016) came into the season sticking with the overall approach that won them MLS Cup. That ties into the cliché about championship teams having targets on their backs, a concept I’ve never really attached any meaning to till now. Maybe opposing teams do study the champs a little more carefully. And that obliges the champs to keep things fresh. Or to see that crown get knocked off their heads.

Anyway, that’s just a theory. This was a good win for Vancouver, an unlikely team that now has two big “on-paper” wins under the belt in this young season (Seattle this week, and the Los Angeles Galaxy a couple weeks back). As for Seattle, look, I could be writing an entirely different post if either of Clint Dempsey’s shots off the woodwork went in, or if Ousted didn’t make two back-to-back saves early in the second. None of that came off: Dempsey was the only positive in the Sounders attack for too long, and that’s how you lose games.

OK, let’s close this out with some notes on both teams.

Seattle Sounders
- Early in the game, I started thinking about Harry Shipp on two, inter-related levels: basically, will Seattle seek to upgrade Shipp, and the necessary follow-up question of whether or not they need to. Young Harry forced that question to stay open during the first 20 minutes, when he found seams all over Vancouver’s defense. The next 48 minutes saw Shipp getting alternately kicked and stymied (there’s a back-story on this detail*), until he was subbed off for Will Bruin at the 68th minute. Shipp’s not a liability or anything, and Seattle’s attack didn’t look good anywhere else either, but, no, I wouldn’t be surprised if they find someone else for Shipp’s role.
- Speaking of Bruin, he will score goals for this team. The one he bagged last night was vintage Bruin, and that argues that his game translated to Seattle’s style just fine.
- All in all, the champs are clearly struggling. For now, they’ll win games they can steal, but they won’t get so far if things don’t sharpen up all over.

Vancouver Whitecaps
- I had very, very much fun watching Alphonso Davies battle Joevin Jones in the first half and Oniel Fisher in the second. Davies doesn’t win them all, but the kid fucking battles. And he wins more than he loses. He’s up there, Davies is, as a point of interest in all of MLS.
- *To wrap up a point from above, a big shift in this game – perhaps the defining one – came with Davies and Williams’ slow, steady seizure of their flank against Shipp and Joevin Jones. This had the effect of strangling Seattle’s attack.
- Vancouver’s key man, at least on the attacking side, is Christian Bolanos. When he struggled (for the first 20 minutes, and mightily; he was their worst culprit on giveaways), Vancouver struggled. When he rounded into form, Bolanos kept Vancouver’s attack moving and, for good or ill, he became a frequent target for crosses. The broadcast team noted that Carl Robinson called Bolanos “absolutely critical” and people, especially Vancouver fans, should ask themselves how they feel about that.
- For all that, Cristian Techera has starred in both of Vancouver’s 2017 wins. And the ‘Caps do appear to play to isolate him; their best and oft-resorted to approach featured either long cross-field passes to Techera, or just working the ball toward him in space – as they did to score their first goal. If I had to game-plan against Vancouver, I’d start with containing Techera for now.
- The real difference in this game, though, was pretty simple. Several ‘Caps players just had good-to-great games: Bolanos did the metronome thing (his play reminds me of Federico Higuain; Bolanos doesn’t work on the wing), but Matias Laba, especially, became omnipresent as the game wore on. With Parker and Williams and Davies (the kid defends very well, thank you) putting in good nights, Seattle had to be better than they were. And sooner.

All for this one. Sitting down to Orlando v. LA soon.

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