"Next man up" mentality bodes well for Seattle Sounders in first leg of Western Conference Semifinals

VANCOUVER — All season long, Seattle Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer has put a huge emphasis on “next man up.” Whether it’s an injury, international duty or even a baby being born in Barcelona, the Rave Green have faced a season of challenges and missed time. Schmetzer’s side hasn’t missed a beat, though. This was evident in Sunday’s scoreless draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals at BC Place.

Between Clint Dempsey’s one-game suspension and injuries to Jordan Morris, Osvaldo Alonso, Gustav Svensson and Victor Rodriguez, it wasn’t the ideal Starting XI that Seattle would hope for in a postseason match. With Schmetzer’s mentality in place, though, the Sounders knew they could grind out a result.

Making his first postseason appearance, Jordy Delem filled in admirably for 64 minutes before Svensson came on, still nursing his hamstring back to full strength. Delem, 24, made just his second start of the past three months, but did well alongside Cristian Roldan in defensive midfield.  

“[Delem] did great. It shouldn’t be a surprise, he’s a good player,” Schmetzer said following the match. “With the injuries we have it seems natural to put him in there, that’s his natural position, so he did [well].”  

Harry Shipp replaced Dempsey in attacking midfield and played 74 minutes. Although he doesn’t pose quite the same scoring threat as Dempsey, Shipp played a safe shift and nearly gave Seattle the 1-0 lead in the second half with a well-struck shot attempt.

“The mantra of this team is next man up,” Schmetzer said. “Harry did exactly what he was supposed to do. He’s the next guy that had to step up and his play was solid, it was a solid performance and he did well.”

Rodriguez’s absence on the left wing pushed Joevin Jones up the flank and allowed Nouhou to make his first MLS Cup Playoffs appearance. He was a menace all evening, but stayed collected and held firm against a Vancouver side known for its counterattack.

Despite the influx of depth players, the Sounders ventured into a hostile environment against a rival and earned a draw. Although a road goal would have been ideal for the Rave Green, coming home at a level slate puts the club in a favorable position.

“We fancy our chances going at home,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “I think we’re a strong team at home, we’ve established a really good home record over this year and we’re going to take it to them.”

The Sounders host the Whitecaps in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals on Thursday, November 2 (7:30 p.m. PT; FS1, FOX Deportes; TICKETS)

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