Match Preview: Caps take on Western Conference top dogs, Seattle Sounders

The Caps’ cross-country adventures continue Saturday, as they complete MLS Rivalry Week TM by facing off against Seattle Sounders at BC Place.

The Sounders remain the top dogs in the Western Conference, sitting on 23 points, though a recent dip in form has seen their gap with second-place LAFC close considerably.

Indeed, Seattle has lost three out of their last four matches in all competitions and their lone win during that time frame required an 89th minute goal from a guy even the most diehard MLS fans have never heard of to beat a 10-man Houston Dynamo team.

The Sounders nonetheless remain a formidable test. Seattle controls matches and leads the league in expected goals, though they actually have underperformed their xG in recent matches and haven’t scored multiple league goals in a league match since early April.

The struggles of late seem to boil down to struggles in the midfield and injuries. While Albert Rusnak, Joa Paulo and Nicholas Lodeiro are, on paper, perhaps the most formidable midfield trio in MLS, they haven’t quite clicked in recent matches and Austin FC capitalized on this in the midweek, as they beat the Sounders 2-1.

Still, those are three players that have feasted on Vancouver in recent years. The Caps will need to mirror Austin’s strategy of applying pressure to Paulo and cutting off the passing channels for these talented playmakers.

And the injury burden on Seattle appears to be easing, with Nouhou Tolo, one of the best players in the league so far this year, likely to start against the Caps. Leo Chu is also likely to feature, though Vancouver will miss out on having to face Raul Ruidiaz.

The linchpin of the Sounders remains good defense and, particularly with Nouhou returning, they will be a tough team to break down. Seattle have given up 11 goals on 11.9 expected goals against, making them one of the stingiest teams the Caps have played this season.

The Caps are going to have to attempt to capitalize on chances in transition, something they struggled to make happen against FC Dallas (and, really, all of this season) and/or maximize the times they get the ball at Julian Gressel’s feet. Other teams are starting to really clamp down on Gressel, as the midweek proved, especially without Ryan Gauld available as a secondary creative option (though Gauld trained on Friday).

Heading back home for the first time seemingly in forever (or a two weeks) will surely be a boost to a Caps team that looked gassed from all the cross country travel by the end of the Dallas match. This is also a team that has not gotten a result away from home in the league since March and being back at BC Place will be a balm to a team that is a bit out of sorts at the moment.

Vancouver is operating at a higher level than they have in recent seasons where their performance at Dallas can be written off as an anomaly, rather than the norm. I would expect to see Simon Becher and Ali Ahmed in the starting lineup in this one and they will be sorely needed if Vancouver are to go toe to toe with Seattle.

Tristan Blackmon’s return will also be vital, as the makeshift backline cobbled together in the midweek didn’t inspire confidence. But the fact that Ranko Veselinovic is apparently away from the team for personal reasons means the Caps will be without one of first choice centerbacks for a second match in a row. That is certainly of concern.

I can see the Caps getting a result here but Occam’s razor dictates that I predict a Sounders win and the fact that Ranko will miss the match leaves me with little confidence after the shuffling around that occurred in the backline during the midweek.

That being said, I don’t think it will be a pounding — 1-0 seems about right. And, who knows? The Caps seem due for a bit of good fortune.

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