After a poor first half, it was the return of Raúl Ruidíaz that ensured Seattle Sounders were victorious over Vancouver Whitecaps at Providence Park as he scored the opener and assisted the second to see the Sounders reach the playoffs and see off a much changed Whitecaps side.
Story of the match
There were no real chances in the first half until just before the interval. A corner for the Sounders saw a headed chance fall for Ruidíaz, but his effort was easily grasped by Whitecaps goalkeeper Evan Bush. It certainly seemed to be the same Seattle side that had struggled in their last three fixtures, picking up only two points out of a possible nine before this game.
After the half time break though, Seattle came to life with their talisman Ruidíaz opening the scoring on 54 minutes. Nouhou Tolo crossed into the area for Ruidiaz to make no mistake from six yards out. The linesman’s flag went up for offside, but after a VAR check the goal stood to give Seattle the lead.
Ruidíaz turned provider minutes later. A ball down the line from Leerdam saw the Peruvian turn expertly in the area and pull it back for Nicholas Lodeiro to finish past Bush to double their lead.
Vancouver did try to get back into the game with a couple of half chances, but the Sounders held on for the win which puts them two points ahead of second place Sporting Kansas City.
Takeaways from the match
Seattle qualify for the playoffs for the twelfth consecutive season
Since the Sounders joined MLS in 2009, they have qualified for the playoffs every single year since they joined in the league expansion - a quite remarkable achievement, considering the steps and procedures put in place by the league to ensure no one team dominates year after year as is the case in leagues across the world. Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer has been with the club throughout; playing for the club in the NASL days as well as being part of the late Sigi Schmid’s backroom staff before taking on the Head Coach role himself. This is an example of showing faith in management, with the Seattle franchise very much sticking by their men and not jumping the gun to make changes should a few poor results come to pass.
Vancouver's squad rotation cost them
For Vancouver, it wasn’t a disastrous performance by any means. In fact, they managed to keep Seattle's attack at bay in the first half to put themselves in position to take something out of the game. If it wasn’t for the class of Ruidíaz, it may have been a different story. The heavily rotated squad will not have helped matters, but the Whitecaps still have a shot of making the playoffs this season.
Ruidíaz has been a massive miss for the Sounders since missing due to International duty, and he will be integral to their chances of winning the competition. His ability to take his chances and create opportunities for others shows just how important a player he is, and with him the Sounders were back to their clinical best in a game of few chances for both sides.
What the coaches had to say
Vancouver Head Coach Marc Dos Santos admitted that he had to rest players for this game due to the fixture build up to ensure his key players were fit for the final run in.
"It's not what I wanted. It's what I had to do," Dos Santos explained. "Some of the guys were very tight in their muscles, some were risking injury, some of them were not able to recover on time to play this game.
"We knew when we saw Seattle coming with their best 11 and all their players, it would have been a very tough night for us. Because against Seattle, if you want to beat Seattle, you have to play against them with your best players and with the same amount of recovery. Today it wasn't the case so I take a lot of the positives, the mentality of our guys, the way they fought to give their best to get something from the game."
Seattle Head Coach Brian Schmetzer was delighted to have qualified for the latter stages of the competition and spoke to the media after the game.
"It's obviously a big moment for the club," Schmetzer said. "I'd like to push that back, even in the USL days and NASL days, this club's always been a winning club. It's something that is within the DNA, the culture of our club. I reminded the players before the game about the great players we've had at this club, and what does it take to make it to the playoffs, and other sports franchises and how, and asking them questions so that they can reflect on the job that they do.
"What I would come back with is the reason why we've been in the playoffs for 12 straight years — obviously Sigi laid a great foundation, very grateful for that — but the reason why the club has made it 12 years in a row is that the players always are committed to themselves, they're committed to their teammates, they're committed to the fans. And it's that type of culture that can drive, that can be successful, that can win championships. That's what we have with the Sounders, that's what what we have with this particular group."
Vancouver Whitecaps: Bush; Bikel, Rose, Veselinovic, Cornelius, Gutiérrez; Ricketts, Baldisimo, Teibert, Raposo; Bair.
Substitutions: Meredith, Cavallini, Dájome, Montero, Owusu, Godoy, Nerwinski, Metcalf, Al-Tameemi.
Seattle Sounders: Frei; Leerdam, Gomez, Arreaga, Tolo; Svensson, João Paulo; Roldan, Lodeiro, Morris; Ruidíaz.
Substitutions: Cleveland, Delem, Penilla, Roldan, O’Neill, Torres, Jones, Hopeau.