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Joe Nicholson

Go Figure: Sounders FC heads north to wrap up three-match road swing

Last Saturday’s match against Columbus Crew SC came at an unforgiving time for Sounders FC. Six days after a nearly 3,000 mile jaunt to Yankee Stadium and one week before a Cascadia clash with pesky Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the Sounders were in Columbus’ MAPFRE Stadium, home to one of the best clubs in the Eastern Conference. Despite another scoring display from Clint Dempsey and a Herculean effort from Stefan Frei, the Sounders fell 3-2 snapping a three-match winning streak.

Are there positives to take away from the defeat? What is the outlook for this weekend’s battle north of the border? Let’s dive in to the Sounders’ statistical musings.

Seasonal Sizzles

Sounders FC remains in third place in the Western Conference with 16 points (5-3-1), and has one game in-hand on FC Dallas and two games in-hand on Vancouver, who are both tied atop the league table with 20 points apiece. With 15 goals scored (tied for second-most in MLS) and nine goals allowed (tied for third-fewest in MLS), the Sounders continue to lead MLS with a plus-six goal differential. Sounders FC is one of only four clubs to have a win in over 50 percent of its matches.

Clint Dempsey is tied for the league lead with seven goals. He also ranks first in MLS with an average of 1.04 goals per 90 minutes. Dempsey, alongside teammate Marco Pappa, is tied for fourth in MLS with four assists. The USMNT captain has registered a goal or an assist in all seven appearances in 2015 and nine consecutive matches overall, which is tied for the sixth-longest streak in MLS history.

Last Week’s Listings

At times, saves can be a misleading stat. A goalkeeper may be performing well, but this isn’t always evident in the number of saves if the backline is preventing good chances. Earlier in the season, Frei’s total saves weren’t among the league-leaders, despite being one of the best in other goalkeeper categories, such as wins, shutouts, and save percentage. More recently, though, saves have been a defining characteristic of Frei’s ability to keep the Sounders in the match.

Against Crew SC on Saturday, Frei recorded a career-high 10 saves. After not recording more than seven saves in a single match last season, Frei has made at least eight saves in three of the past four matches, which has catapulted him to the league lead with 36 saves on the season. He also ranks tied for second in wins with five and tied for second in shutouts with four.

With Dempsey’s brace against Columbus, 14 of Seattle’s 15 goals have involved either Dempsey or Obafemi Martins. Of the 113 players to score in MLS this season, just three are Sounders. Seattle is one of two MLS teams to have three goal scorers, joining Montreal Impact (which has played in four fewer games and has scored 12 fewer goals.)

Not only did Saturday’s loss snap a three-match winning streak, the Sounders also fell to an Eastern Conference opponent for the first time in 2015 (2-1-0), and ended its four-match unbeaten streak in MAPFRE Stadium.

Matchup Mashup

Next up, Sounders FC faces Vancouver Whitecaps FC, who is currently tied for the MLS lead with 20 points (6-3-2). Vancouver opened the season with a home loss to Toronto before winning four straight games. After going 1-1-2 in the ensuing stretch, the ‘Caps beat Philadelphia at home last Saturday. Vancouver ranks first in the Western Conference in goals scored at home (11).

Recently, Sounders FC hasn’t had much success against its Canadian counterparts. Overall, Vancouver holds the regular season series advantage, 4-3-4. As visitors, Seattle is 1-2-3, with its lone road win coming in September 2011. Seattle is currently amidst a five-match winless streak against Vancouver, going 0-4-1 since June 2013.

Throwback

A match between Vancouver and Seattle on September 24, 2011 ended up being a series of “lasts.” It was the last time Vancouver played at Empire Stadium before moving over to BC Place, and it was the last time Seattle won a match in Vancouver. In the end, the last team to score—not the first—earned the three points.

Despite the Caps jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the first half, the Sounders drew level on a penalty kick by Brad Evans (who has never missed a regular season penalty kick attempt). In the second half, Fredy Montero scored a brace—netting scoring tallies in the 64th and 67th minutes—to secure the 3-1 victory.

The win clinched Seattle’s third Cascadia Cup. It marked the only time Seattle has won the regional trophy since Portland, Vancouver and Seattle were all in MLS.

Key(s) to the Game

Anticipate a fast start and physicality from the opposition. Vancouver traditionally gets off to quick starts against the Rave Green, as five of its 17 goals in the series have come in the first 15 minutes, and Whitecaps FC has outscored Seattle 11-3 in the first half. Contrarily, six of Seattle’s 15 goals against Vancouver have come in the final 15 minute interval.

In addition to sitting atop the Western Conference table, Vancouver also leads MLS in fouls conceded (163) and yellow cards (30). The ‘Caps will protect their pitch with the physical nature that is to be expected in a rivalry match.

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