Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Loderio both netted goals as the Sounders blew out their Cascadia Cup rivals in front of 41,868 at CenturyLink Field.
Wednesday night’s showdown against Vancouver was not a must-win from a Sounders perspective. They had built up enough of a cushion, and the bottom half of the Western Conference is so thoroughly mediocre, that they’d have been on track for playoff qualification no matter how the rivalry match went down.
In terms of actually, vigorously defending their MLS Cup title, though? Viewed inside that particular lens, they were badly in need of a spark.
Seattle came in winless in five and worse, had looked uninspired for more than a month. With only four games remaining in the regular season, it was running out of time to find the type of winning combination that inspired last year’s dramatic championship run.
Sounders @ Philadelphia,10 a.m., ESPN
And so Wednesday’s 3-0 romp over the first-place Whitecaps at CenturyLink Field was significant as much for the style than the actual points – though that trio did lift the Sounders into a three-way tie for second place and a potential bye into the conference semifinals.
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Just when it looked as though Seattle (12-8-11) would limp toward the finish line, it played with renewed verve.
“It’s one of those games where it clicked. It worked,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Those guys enjoyed playing with each other. The team as a whole was getting a little irritated. … This group was going to have a breakout game. That was tonight.”
Credit is due to Schmetzer for the boldness of his lineup changes. Despite admitting that, 30 games into a 34-match campaign, he really would rather have settled on a consistent starting 11 by now, Schmetzer also knew that the status quo would likely have meant yet another dour performance.
Clint Dempsey pushed forward as the lone striker, leaving Cristian Roldan to move into Dempsey’s usual attacking midfielder position. The mood of the attack shifted immediately. With Dempsey further up the field and Roldan making a nuisance of himself around the penalty box, suddenly Nicolas Lodeiro had room to create.
Lodeiro, the crafty Uruguayan who played such an influential role in last year’s midseason turnaround, has been less effective in his first full campaign in MLS. Yet he certainly had an impact on Wednesday. Victor Rodriguez opened the scoring off one of his passes in the 17th minute – “the first goal, we felt like the dam could break,” Roldan said afterward — and Lodeiro duly netted a goal himself to double the lead in the 62nd.
Wednesday night’s result was not without flaws or consequences – namely, Osvaldo Alonso’s quad injury suffered late in the first half that forced a reversion to Seattle’s previous formation. Yet by the time Dempsey made it 3-0 off another Lodeiro feed in the 69th minute, CenturyLink reverberated with a familiar buzz as the Sounders flashed chemistry they haven’t shown in months.
“We needed to play well,” Schmetzer said. “If the result hadn’t have gone our way, it would have been damaging, for sure. But as long as we played well and made the playoffs, we would’ve given ourselves a chance. If the formation didn’t work and we didn’t get a result, I think it would have knocked us on the chin a little bit. We did need this one.”