Western Conference Semifinals: Sounders, Whitecaps scoreless after first leg at BC Place

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A tense Western Conference Semifinal first leg match up between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders ended level at 0-0 at BC Place on Sunday night. Joevin Jones’ 36th minute cross, deflected off of Whitecaps centerback Kendall Waston, struck the bar and neither side would come any closer to a goal thereafter. Cascadia’s first playoff derby since 2015 produced a tactical duel between Brian Schmetzer and Carl Robinson, and the result leaves both moderately satisfied as they prepare for the second leg in Seattle.

R0binson’s first play was to start three holding midfielders in Tony Tchani, Aly Ghazal and Nosa Igiebor while star attackers Yordy Reyna and Christian Techera looked on from the bench. Facing a spell of four matches in twelve days, the Vancouver boss knew Reyna and Techera couldn’t go the distance on Sunday. As a result, he set the team up to not concede until the duo subbed on in the last half hour. The outcome was a well-managed opening hour at the expense of carrying little threat going forward. The look was a bit odd for a team playing at home in the postseason, but given the rest situation the solution was valid. Most importantly, it worked. Reyna and Techera didn’t find a winner but Vancouver did deny Sounders an away goal, a point Robinson stressed after the match.

Brian Schmetzer’s lineup featured surprises as well, with Jordy Delem and Nouhou Tolo earning their first-ever playoff starts. Harry Shipp kept his spot in the midfield after an up and down performance on Decision Day and Joevin Jones was pushed up into the midfield from his natural left back position. Seattle’s personnel dilemma was similar to the hosts’ in that they each hoped to get through an hour of the match before subbing on stars. In their Sounders’, it was defensive midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Gustav Svensson replacing Delem and Shipp. Each returned from injury absences and immediately brought defensive stability. When Chad Marshall subbed off with a minor injury in the 78th minute, Schmetzer brought on Lamar Neagle and Svensson moved to centerback. Seattle’s versatile Swede has played all over the field in 2017, and again performed admirably after slotting in next to Roman Torres.

Robinson brought Nicolas Mezquida on for Brek Shea with Whitecaps’ final sub, but the play maker couldn’t provide a spark in his limited action. Techera and Reyna had added some bite to Vancouver’s attack after subbing on, but Fredy Montero saw little of the ball all night and the group never fired on all cylinders.

Truth be told, as the last fifteen wore on both managers clearly became increasingly intent with the prospect of a 0-0 scoreline. Sunday’s result pushes all of the tension to Thursday’s second leg. Vancouver’s counterattack style is well-suited to one off at CenturyLink Field with the away goals rule in effect, and Sounders will feel confident with their win-and-advance scenario as well.

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