Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sounders clinch playoff berth with a 0-0 draw in Vancouver

By Money Mike

The Seattle Sounders have clinched a playoff berth for a fourth consecutive season since their arrival to Major League Soccer. That spot was secured on Saturday when they went down to Vancouver and battled the Whitecaps to a 0-0 draw. Yes, the Sounders only needed a draw to clinch a playoff spot, but there was no doubt that they wanted to come away with all three points. The Sounders next three games are at home. Starting on Sunday against the rivals from the South, the Portland Timbers. Over 66,000 tickets have been sold for that game. Then they have a week off the following weekend before they prepare for a midweek match on the 17th against Real Salt Lake. Then their last home match of the regular season will take place on Sunday October 21st against FC Dallas before they close out the regular season against the Los Angeles Galaxy on October 28th. So now that they've made the playoffs again, can they finally avoid another early round exit and advance to the Western Conference final? At this point it's not important because there's still four more games to go in the regular season before we can turn our attention to the MLS Cup playoffs.

Seattle did start this match off brightly early on. In the 12th minute, Brad Evans poked the ball to Ozzie Alonso from outside the penalty area for a first timed shot but it went wide of Brad Knighton's right hand side.

A couple minutes later, the Sounders caught the Whitecaps on the counter but just came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock. Barry Robson curled the ball out from the far corner looking for Jay DeMerit but Michael Gspurning punched the ball out of the box, but not quite out of danger. John Thorrington stepped up and looked to strike the ball on goal, but Leo Gonzalez got in the way and Mauro Rosales got the attack going as he found Fredy Montero and the Sounders sprinted back the other way in a four on two break. Montero played the ball back to Rosales who's first timed cross just eluded Brad Evans who got the start at left midfield over Steve Zakuani.

Shortly after, the Vancouver Whitecaps had to go their bench early. John Thorrington has had some injury problems with his right leg over the course of his career in MLS, and he appeared to have re-aggravated his right knee. So the Whitecaps had to use their first of three available substitutes in the 17th minute with Matt Watson coming into the game. Watson was one of four players who followed head coach Martin Rennie to Vancouver from the Carolina RailHawks during the offseason. Things would go from bad to worse for the Whitecaps later on in the half.

In the 30th minute, the Whitecaps missed a golden opportunity to open the scoring. Ozzie Alonso gave the ball straight away to Gershon Koffie in his own area. Koffie then used a little trickery to get away from Alonso and Leo Gonzalez and played in a perfect ball to Darron Mattocks and all he had to do was strike it on goal to give the Caps a 1-0 lead, but he took a split second too long and Jeff Parke slid in to break up the play.

Five minutes later, Koffie had room to shoot from long distance, but his shot went well wide. There wasn't much action early on up to that point, but since then, the game started to open up.

About a couple minutes later, the Sounders got away with what looked like a foul that wasn't called. Not only that, the Whitecaps had make another change. Kenny Miller fed the ball to Darron Mattocks to took one touch to try to get around Jeff Parke and it appeared that Parke dragged Mattocks to the ground just out side the area and Mattocks collided with goalkeeper Michael Gspurning who came off his line to challenge for the ball. Mattocks stayed down immediately holding his right hammy (Hamstring, in case any of you don't know what I mean) while Gspurning got up off the ground limping. If there was a foul, I don't know if Parke would've been sent off because again, Gspurning came out to challenge for the ball. Also, that the foul been given, it would've been a free kick outside the area. The bottomline is, Mattocks got the worst of the collision after suffering a right hamstring injury and the Whitecaps had to go to the bench for the second time in the first half.

A minute into the second half, Camilo Sanvezzo who came on for Darron Mattocks late in the first half, cut inside of Adam Johansson and sent in a low ball towards goal but he didn't get enough power on it and it was easily gathered by Michael Gspurning. Johansson had a lot to prove in this game after a horrible performance last Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes. He bounced back very well in this match and had a decent performance in this match. It wasn't great, but it was a lot better than last Saturday. Hopefully during the offseason, Johannson will work on that and come into the 2013 season with a little more confidence.

Two minutes later, Gspurning nearly got beat from distance. Alain Rochat locked his ankles and struck the ball brilliantly with his laces and Gspurning alertly got a left arm to it. The movement of the ball nearly fooled the Austrian goalkeeper as he saw the ball drifting toward his right hand post, but then it started knuckling and Gspurning nearly ran past it.

With over 10 minutes to go in the match, the Sounders could've been up 1-0 had there not been a defender covering the near post. Christian Tiffert took the corner from the near side and found Jeff Parke in the middle of the penalty area for a half volley which was on target and looked to have had goalkeeper Brad Knighton beat, but fortunately for him, Lee Young-Pyo was there to clear the ball off the line.

There was a lot more drama late in the match, especially in the final minute of stoppage time, first in the Whitecaps area. Christian Tiffert curled the ball toward the back post which was behind Fredy Montero, but Montero used his strength to bring the ball down, turn and strike on goal. However the ball drifted away from goal.

You thought that was the last chance of the game, eh eh, not so fast. In the final seconds, the Whitecaps quickly sprinted back the other wide and Camilo missed what was probably the biggest opportunity of his young career. Barry Robson's cross found Kenny Miller would couldn't direct his header goalwards, but the ball found Camilo at the far post and he's put his shot just wide. At his caliber, he usually has no problem putting those away and he probably should've put this one away, but he didn't and the Sounders dodged a huge bullet and came away a point which was all they need to secure a place in the MLS Cup playoffs.

The Sounders wanted the three points, even though they only needed one to get into the playoffs. With the next three at home, it's important that the Sounders take advantage of the home field because home field advantage in the second leg is the key. We're looking at a matchup against either the LA Galaxy or Real Salt Lake should we finish second or third in the Western Conference standings. If they finish fourth, they would have to face Vancouver or Dallas in a wild-card matchup at home, with the winner facing San Jose in the MLS Cup quarterfinal and I'm pretty sure that is something the Sounders wouldn't want.

This team should be able to finish above fourth place at the least, but either way when it comes time for the playoffs, they can't afford to lose anybody to injury. Remember, Mauro Rosales suffered a sprained right knee in the final regular season match of 2011 which ruled him out of the MLS Cup quarterfinal against RSL and that proved costly to the team. That can't happen again, you gotta have your big guys out there at all costs. The Sounders are well overdue to advance out of the Quarterfinal. In 2009, they could've had at least three or four goals against Houston and they ended up losing 1-0 in extra time. Both Seattle and Houston had the best defense in the league, tied to the fewest goals conceded with 29. In 2011, well I think you already know. Losing the first leg 3-0, doesn't mean that you don't have a chance of coming back. If anybody remembers the 2005 UEFA Champions League final, Liverpool was down 3-0 to A.C. Milan but they came back with three second half goals and went on to win the final on PK's. I don't think the Sounders will find themselves in this situation again this postseason. If there was anytime for the Sounders to advance, perhaps this will be it.

Scoring summary:


Misconduct summary:

Vancouver Whitecaps - Jordan Harvey (caution; foul) 49'

Seattle Sounders FC - Jeff Parke (caution; foul) 55'


Seattle Sounders FC - Michael Gspurning; Adam Johansson, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leonardo Gonzalez; Mauro Rosales (Steve Zakuani 70'), Osvaldo Alonso, Christian Tiffert, Brad Evans (Andy Rose 74'); Eddie Johnson, Fredy Montero

Vancouver Whitecaps - Brad Knighton; Lee Young-Pyo, Andy O'Brien, Jay DeMerit, Jordan Harvey; Gershon Koffie, Alain Rochat, Barry Robson, John Thorrington (Matt Watson 17'); Kenny Miller, Darron Mattocks (Camilo Sanvezzo 42')

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