Clint Dempsey broke the deadlock in style as the Sounders moved on to the Western Conference final in the MLS Cup playoffs.
He was suspended for the first leg of this matchup, but in front of his own fans, Clint Dempsey took full advantage of his opportunity as his brace secured a 2-0 victory for the Seattle Sounders against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals, propelling the defending MLS Cup champions to the next round on a 2-0 aggregate.
The first half was played with pace but also with caution as neither team was prepared to throw many men in the box when in possession.
There was a call for a penalty just after the half-hour mark when Nouhou Tolo went down in the box and, after video review, it did appear that his shirt was tugged, but the referee decided to take no further action.
Dempsey broke the deadlock in the 56th minute after a fantastic passage of play that allowed him to score a great left-footed shot and secure his 13th goal of the season. He also tied Nicolás Lodeiro for most postseason goals in team history.
The 34-year-old forward made it 2-0 in the 88th minute thanks to a great short corner which ended up at the far post for him to put away.
Seattle goes through to the Western Conference finals for the second straight season (third in last four) and will face the winner of Portland and Houston, who play their second leg this Sunday.
Here are three thoughts on the match:
Everything must go through Nicolás Lodeiro
When watching the Sounders and deconstructing their strategy, sometimes (and amazingly) I feel as if Lodeiro’s teammates don’t understand just how good he is. There were many situations, especially in the first half, where Seattle’s fill-in captain demanded the ball in the middle of the park in order to move the chains but his plea was ignored in favor of a long ball which was eventually cleared away by Vancouver.
If Seattle is to repeat last year’s success, it must understand that everything must start and end with Lodeiro. From the simple pass that goes out wide to embarrassing a defender when faced with pressure, the 28-year-old Uruguayan playmaker can do it all.
A perfect example occurred in the first half as, just when it seemed as if there weren’t any options, Lodeiro crossed in a beautiful ball for Clint Dempsey for it to go wide. There aren’t many players in the league who could do that.
When going its way, Seattle’s possession-friendly tactics are a joy to watch. Now all Brian Schmetzer’s players need to do is listen more to their fill-in captain, because they’re incredibly lucky to have him.
Vancouver needed a Plan B
Against San Jose, one of my biggest concerns about the Whitecaps was that their counter-attacking strategy could only take them so far because keeping the ball is a big problem for them, especially during tense matches. And when they do have the ball, it’s as if creativity is hard to come by, even in the second half when they had more of the possession in the early stages.
Fredy Montero can’t hold the ball, that’s not his strength. Yordy Reyna is not a false nine, and if Robinson observed what Ricardo Gareca does with him with Peru, he could see that he’s best used as a wider option.
Thursday, Vancouver was without the ball for long periods of the game and once they did get it back, it was difficult to maintain any kind of rhythm. The ‘Caps need a creative midfielder who can hold the ball and dictate play.
That should be the No. 1 target in the off-season because, otherwise, issues with offensive momentum will keep happening.
Seattle’s defense can be the key to win it all once again
The third-best defensive unit in the regular season (only conceded 39 goals) never looked in danger as everything that went in was dealt with by veteran Chad Marshall and the Panamanian World Cup qualifying hero Román Torres.
Both players are so in sync with goalkeeper Stefan Frei that it’s going to be extremely difficult for anyone to score against them.
This team has not allowed a goal since Sept. 10 (a 1-1 draw against LA Galaxy) so it’s going to take something special to break down this wall.
At this point I can’t see anything else but a repeat of last year’s MLS Cup and for Seattle to be facing off against Toronto once again. And if Seattle’s backline can maintain this level of excellence, there’s no reason why the Sounders can’t claim their second title.