The Seattle Sounders punched their ticket to the Western Conference Championships for the second straight year by knocking off the Vancouver Whitecaps by a 2-0 scoreline at CenturyLink Field on Thursday night. Clint Dempsey scored both goals for Seattle in the second half while the Whitecaps struggled to break down a stout Seattle defense and only registered a single shot on target across the entire tie.
Vancouver head coach, Carl Robinson started a much more attacking starting eleven than he did in the 0-0 draw in the first leg of the series, but his side seemed to only be dangerous when on a counter attack. A few chances came from Fredy Montero making runs between Seattle’s center back pairing of Chad Marshall and Roman Torres but every time the Sounder defense recovered quickly and snuffed out the danger.
Seattle on the other hand were putting high pressure on the Vancouver defense and midfield, forcing difficult passes and winning back possession. Once on the ball Seattle began feeding the it wide and getting crosses into the box, often from the left side pairing of Joevin Jones and Nouhou. While they failed to find a first half goal, it was apparent early on that Seattle was going to continue to find success wide and that they were starting to break down Vancouver’s defense.
Nouhou was able to find space behind the defense in the 32nd minute and looked to have been pulled down by Jake Nerwinski inside the penalty box but even after video review, head referee Baldomero Toledo decided there was no foul to give. Unfortunately for Vancouver, Nerwinski went down injured on the play and had to be replaced by Jordan Harvey.
The best chance of the first half would come in the second minute of stoppage time as Nicolas Lodeiro played a fantastic cross towards the far post for Dempsey who was able to leap and get a foot on the ball but his shot would roll just wide of the far post. While the Sounders had spent the majority of the half attacking Vancouver’s back four, this was the first time the defense seemed to break down and Seattke seemed poised to pick it apart.
In the second half Seattle continued to pressure Vancouver high up the field, and found the breakthrough in the 56th minute.
The play started from on a 50/50 ball in the midfield off of a Vancouver clearance as Harry Shipp won a header and directed a pass towards Lodeiro. Sounders’ play-maker who then hit a perfect pass in stride for Christian Roldan. Facing three defenders, Roldan passed the ball off to Will Bruin just inside the box who then gave a quick heel flick back to Shipp. Seeing Dempsey wide open at the top of the box, Shipp simply deflected the ball to his teammate’s feet for Dempsey to cut back and finish through five defenders. Marinovic had no chance as he dove in vain at Dempsey’s far-post curler.
With a 1-1 draw still putting Vancouver through on the away goal tiebreaker, the 1-0 lead felt anything but safe for the Sounders. Instead of pulling back to defend their lead, Seattle pushed forward, searching for a second goal to ice the match. Vancouver couldn’t capitalize on the space left by Nouhou and Kelvin Leerdam pushing into the attack from the wings and instead found themselves giving up dangerous fouls as they tried to weather the Sounders’ storm. This was clearly the moment where Robinson’s game plan broke down, as the Vancouver boss surely wouldn’t have played such a defensive style across both legs if he knew Seattle would continue to attack as they did after taking the lead.
Following several chances, Dempsey finally iced the match on a corner kick that caught a weary Whitecaps defense napping in the 88th minute. Lodeiro took a short corner, passing the ball to a wide open Victor Rodriguez twelve yards out on the left side of the area. With plenty of time and space, Rodriguez turned and shot the ball towards the far corner where Dempsey was crashing the net to redirect the ball home for 2-0. The goal effectively ended the tie as Whitecaps required two goals in two minutes plus stoppage time to advance.
Dempsey had a chance for a hat trick just two minutes later as Roldan found him in the box with a perfect cross. Dempsey controlled it well and looked to go one on one with his defender, getting a shot away but right at goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.
Seattle never panicked during the match and were rewarded for their patience while Vancouver seemed to lack the tenacity needed to get a result on the road when they knew they needed at least one goal to advance. Much can be said of not only Seattle’s experience from last postseason but also of their collective maturity. Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, pointed out after the match that Nouhou was the only player in the starting eleven who was an untested professional and spoke highly of his performance on the night.
Now Seattle will wait for Sunday’s second leg between Portland and Houston which saw the first leg in Houston play to a 0-0 draw as well. Should Houston upset the Timbers at home, Seattle will travel to Texas on November 21st before returning home for the second leg on the 28th. Should Portland win Seattle will host the first leg and travel down I-5 for the second.
Seattle: Frei; Leerdam, Torres, Marshall, Nouhou; Roldan, Lodeiro; Shipp (Rodriguez 67’), Dempsey, Jones (Svensson 60’); Bruin (Neagle 90’+1’)
Vancouver: Marinovic; Waston, de Jong (Shea 80’), Parker, Nerwinski (Harvey 36’); Igiebor, Ghazal; Bolaños, Techera (Davis 64’), Reyna; Montero
Seattle: Dempsey 56’ (Shipp), Dempsey 88’ (Rodriguez, Lodeiro)
Seattle: Lodeiro 9’ (caution), Torres 68 (caution)
Vancouver: Techera 38’ (caution), Montero 49’ (caution), Nosa 58’ (caution), Waston 82’ (caution)