A late Jordan Morris goal was all the Seattle Sounders needed to defeat the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. With the win, the Sounders rose to seventh place in the Western Conference and remain three points back of the sixth-place Portland Timbers with a game in hand. The Caps dropped to eighth place in the Western Conference as their playoff hopes continue to evaporate. The Caps also suffered their 14th loss, most in Major League Soccer (MLS) this season.
Sounders' star players rise to the occasion
Both teams initially struggled to cope with the swirling wind and artificial grass surface, but once both teams found their footing, the game sprung to life. In the 13th minute, Caps forward Erik Hurtado beat an offside trap and lobbed the ball over Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, but Frei was able to recover and swat the ball away from goal.
The Sounders dominated the rest of the first half and could have twice taken the lead. In the 18th minute, Sounders playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro hit a shot just wide of Caps goalkeeper David Ousted's left post, and in the 22nd minute, midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz hit a bending shot that missed Ousted's right post by inches. The Sounders ended the first half with 61 percent possession but weren't able to pry open the Caps organized back line; the game was tied 0-0 at halftime.
In the second half, the Sounders' fullbacks became more involved in the attack while the Caps' back line continued to bend but not break. The Sounders almost made a breakthrough in the 61st minute but were denied by the post and Caps 'keeper Ousted. Sounders right back Tyrone Mears crossed the ball to the back post and Ivanschitz flicked the ball against the left post. The ball bounced across the goal line before Ousted acrobatically tipped the ball over his own crossbar. The ensuing corner kick came to nothing and the game remained tied at zero.
Just eight minutes after Ivanschitz's miss, it was the Caps' turn to hit the left post. Midfielder Pedro Morales hit a perfectly-weighted pass to substitute Giles Barnes, who had peeled off of Sounders' center back Chad Marshall's left shoulder. Barnes took a touch before hitting the ball across goal, but his low shot pinged off the left post and the Sounders cleared their lines.
The intensity ramped up in the final twenty minutes as both teams searched for a goal. In the 73rd minute, Sounders forward Morris got on the end of substitute Erik Friberg's cross but his shot was blocked by Caps center back Kendall Waston. In the 79th minute, Caps midfielder Christian Bolanos hit a blast from 30 yards out that flew a yard past Frei's left post.
Finally, after 81 minutes of action, the Sounders broke the deadlock. Designated Player (DP) Lodeiro delivered a floated, left-footed cross into the Caps six-yard-box and Morris dove to head the ball past Ousted and into an empty net. It was Morris' 10th goal of the campaign as he became just the fifth rookie in league history to score double-digit goals.
The Caps brought on forward Blas Perez, who scored the game-winning goal against the Sounders back in March, for Hurtado in the 82nd minute. The visitors abandoned their conservative game plan and threw men forward in search of an equalizer. But the Sounders defense--led by center backs Roman Torres and Marshall--thwarted the Caps' salvos forward and closed the game out. When the final whistle sounded, the Sounders' fans and players celebrated as the Caps trudged off the field, disappointed after conceding another late goal in what has been a forgettable season.
Men of the match
Seattle Sounders: Osvaldo Alonso
Forward Morris got his 10th goal of the season and star midfielder Lodeiro got his seventh assist in eight games, but longtime defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso played his best game of the season on Saturday. The 30-year-old finished with three key passes, two interceptions, one clearance and a jaw-dropping 19 tackles. Alonso single-handedly stopped two Caps counterattacks and also neutralized Caps DP Morales for most of Saturday's contest. Although Lodeiro and Morris will get most of the plaudits after Saturday's win, Alonso should be recognized for his brilliant performance against the Caps.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Kendall Waston
Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston has been inconsistent this season, but when he's on his game, he's one of the best center backs in MLS. Waston was certainly on his game on Saturday; the towering Costa Rican finished with five tackles, eight clearances, two defensive blocks and two interceptions. Waston blocked a point-blank Morris shot in the 73rd minute and also won almost all of his aerial duels. He could do nothing to prevent the Sounders' game-winning goal and will be frustrated to see his impressive performance go to waste.
What's next for both teams
The Sounders will face a stern test when they take on the Los Angeles Galaxy next Sunday, September 25, at 4:00 PM ET. The Galaxy has only lost once in their last fifteen regular season games and is coming off a 4-2 win over Orlando City last weekend. The Sounders will need to beat the host Galaxy in order to keep pace with the sixth-place Timbers, but the Galaxy remains undefeated at home and will be hard to break down.
The Whitecaps will try to keep their faint playoff hopes alive when they take on the Colorado Rapids next Saturday, September 24, at 7:00 PM ET. The Rapids have only allowed 24 goals in 27 games and are in third place in the Western Conference. The Whitecaps have only scored four goals in their last nine matches and a loss against the Rapids could eliminate them from playoff contention. Manager Carl Robinson must find a way to motivate his players to play well next Saturday, or else the Caps will only be playing for pride during the last month of the season.