In several ways, the Seattle Sounders got the job done on Sunday night. In Brian Schmetzer’s mind, though, Sunday was a bit of a missed opportunity.
On the road and without several key players, the Sounders grinded out a 0-0 draw against the Whitecaps on Sunday in Vancouver. That result leaves it all to play for when the MLS Cup champions return to Seattle for the second leg, which is as much as many could ask for given the task at hand.
Schmetzer, though, was hoping for a bit more than what he saw from what turned out to be a stale, defensive, tactical scoreless affair.
“I actually wished we pressed the issue a little bit more,” he said. “I thought there were opportunities in the second half. There was one opportunity in the first half where we were able to get behind their defense and cause some problems. Vancouver is too good of a team for us to just to sit in and defend. We have to score goals. The balance, yes, was there maybe, but I wish we could have pushed for the first goal.”
“One of our goals was to get a clean sheet,” he added. “That was one goal out of two or three. We accomplished that one. The second one would have been to score an away goal. We didn’t accomplish that.”
To be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot of anything accomplished on Sunday night. It was a dull defensive affair, one with few clear cut chances. Part of that can be chalked up to the Sounders list of absences that include Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey. The other half is that Sunday pitted two teams that very much looked afraid to make a mistake.
For the Sounders, the big goal was to bottle Fredy Montero, and they did just that through Roman Torres and Chad Marshall. There were few clear-cut chances for either side, save for a Kendall Waston clearance that caromed off his own crossbar. Other than that, the match lacked flow as both teams tried to bait the other into doing something wrong.
“They almost played with a give in the back and as soon as we got the ball, they all tried to get goalside,” said midfielder Cristian Roldan. “That was almost their gameplan. No one wanted to make a mistake defensively. That can make or break a series.
“You have to keep in mind that we were the away team. If we were cautious, they were even more cautious than we were,” added goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “Yes, we understand that there’s an away goal rule, but you can’t bank on that. They have to score now. 0-0 tie isn’t going to do anything at our place… There’s different strategies to it. You don’t want to give up an away goal. I get that. But at the same time, you have to win your home games as well. There are different approaches to it.”
But for all of the moments of inactivity, there was a certain fire to Sunday’s match. It was a physical match and it was a tough match, and some of that physicality and toughness boiled up late.
Tempers flared between both sides late in the match following a Nouhou Tolo injury, prompting a meeting between several players and the typical pushing and shoving.
“Playoffs, Cascadia. Two teams that want to win and two teams that are extremely competitive,” Roldan said. “We have guys that will do anything for the team and if that’s getting into a tackle or getting mad at another player, that’s going to happen. We just can’t do anything silly and that’s the case when we get into those little fights. We can’t put hands to the face or anything like that that will change a series.”
“That was a playoff game. That absolutely was a playoff game,” Schmetzer added. “The coaching staffs, the players on the field, but (Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson) is a good guy. We talked after the game. There’s no animosity there. It’s just playoff intensity.”
Now, both teams will look to bring that intensity, and some goals, to CenturyLink Field. The Sounders feel confident as they get set to return home knowing that a win will send them to the conference final once again.
Schmetzer says his team knows all about these types of make-or-break games because they played in a number of them en route to an MLS Cup last season. They’ll now need to put it together for one more as Sunday’s result ensures there will be plenty of pressure on both sides heading into leg two.
“It’s not going to be that easy,” Schmetzer said. “Carl is going to get his guys ready. We obviously will benefit from some guys being back in the fold. It should be a tough match. We’ll be in front of our home crowd, and hopefully we’ll carry that advantage through.”