SEATTLE– And they shall live to fight another day.
With their playoff hopes perhaps on the line, the Seattle Sounders earned a vital three points against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday afternoon. A goal from Jordan Morris and yet another assist from midsummer signing Nicolas Lodeiro was just enough to lift the Sounders to a 1-0 win in front of 47,111 at CenturyLink Field.
Unlocking the Whitecaps defense took most of the afternoon in a sometimes chippy match contested in a playoff-caliber atmosphere. No surprise, though, that when the goal came it came through a certain South American with the endless energy, the big soccer brain, and the embarrassment of technical skill.
In the 81st minute, Lodeiro sent a pinpoint cross into the heart of the penalty area. Morris split Vancouver’s central defenders, sending a diving header past goalkeeper David Ousted for the 1-0 lead and perhaps the biggest goal of Seattle’s roller-coaster season. It was a team-leading 10th goal for Morris in what has been a stellar if sometimes erratic rookie campaign.
It was also Lodeiro’s seventh assist — to go along with three goals — in just eight games since joining the Sounders. The Uruguayan Designated Player has now contributed a goal or assist in seven straight matches.
The win at least temporarily pushes the Sounders (10-13-5, 35 points) past both the Whitecaps and the San Jose Earthquakes and into seventh place in the Western Conference. Seattle now sits just three points behind the Portland Timbers for the sixth and final playoff spot. The Sounders also have two games in hand on the Timbers, who play later Saturday.
The loss could prove devastating for the Whitecaps (10-13-7, 34 points), who now have just one win in their last 10 matches and slipped into eighth place with just four games left on their schedule. The seventh-place Sounders and ninth-place Earthquakes both have two games in hand on Vancouver.
The match opened on fairly even footing, but after 15 minutes the Sounders began to take control, outshooting the increasingly bunkered visitors 13-5 on the half.
In the opening moments some nifty buildup between Morris and Andreas Ivanschitz gave Lodeiro a clear look that curved past the far post. In the 16th minute a clever through ball from Joevin Jones found Lodeiro streaking across the box: Lodeiro then found Ivanschitz lurking in the heart of the penalty area, but defender Jordan Harvey gave up his body to block a shot that seemed bound for the back of the net. The Sounders’ best chance of the half came in the 22nd minute, when Ivanschitz fired a wickedly knuckling ball mere inches past the right post from just inside the 18-yard box.
Mostly content to spring on the counter, the Whitecaps’ chances were few and far between, if achingly close.
Only a tremendous effort from Stefan Frei kept Vancouver from taking an early lead. Forward Erik Hurtado got behind Seattle’s back line in the 15th minute, softly chipping Frei from distance. Hurtado then tried to round the goalkeeper to finish off the chance, but Frei scrambled back to swat the shot away before Hurtado could head it in.
Vancouver also had a golden chance to take the lead midway through the second half. In the 69th minute, substitute Giles Barnes tracked down a through ball that split center backs Chad Marshall and Roman Torres. The Englishman’s 15-yard rocket easily beat Frei and looked destined to find the far-side netting, but slapped the left post.
Looking forward, both teams are back in action against Western Conference elites next weekend. The Whitecaps host the Colorado Rapids (12-5-10, 46 points) on Saturday, while the Sounders visit the LA Galaxy (11-4-14, 47 points) on Sunday.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Lodeiro. Came tantalizingly close to opening the scoring in just the second minute and never slowed down, making countless dangerous runs and passes into space. His beautiful assist just might have saved the Sounders season.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Frei’s save. Looking like a power forward slapping away a layup on the fast break, Frei preserved the clean sheet and kept his team in the game.
MATCH TO FORGET
Hurtado. There were far simpler options than attempting a chip-and-header combination, any one of which would probably have given the Whitecaps a vital first-half lead on the road.