After catching some early breaks to go up by a pair, the Sounders held on to record their league-record ninth straight win. In doing so, the team extended its unbeaten streak to 12 and took home its first Cascadia Cup since 2015.
VANCOUVER, B.C. – There was relief mixed among the smiles as the Sounders gathered in a far corner of the stadium and continued their recent tradition of hoisting hardware on Canadian soil.
They were an exhausted, bruised bunch, having fended off a relentless Vancouver side Saturday night for a 2-1 victory that gave them their second Cascadia Cup triumph at B.C. Place Stadium since 2015. But the Sounders have eyes on a much bigger prize, namely winning back the MLS Cup championship they also captured in front of a Canuck throng at Toronto in 2016.
And they knew how big a step in that direction this ninth consecutive victory — a league record in the post-shootout era — would be and how fortunate they were to emerge with that result after a playoff-like battle.
“We didn’t play our best game, but we won and that’s all that matters,’’ right back Kelvin Leerdam, sore ankle and all, said wearily in the locker room afterward.
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Leerdam set up the first of two first-half goals by Raul Ruidiaz that provided the Sounders, unbeaten in their last 12, all the offense needed in front of a hostile, Whitecaps MLS-record crowd of 27,863. Those fans were teased all night by a slew of near misses. Kei Kamara finally got Vancouver on the board just before halftime, then hit the post after beating Stefan Frei cleanly with a 55thminute shot that nearly tied the score.
But the biggest miss by Vancouver might have come much earlier, when Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso received only a yellow card instead of red in the 41stminute after he’d gotten his cleats up on teenage Whitecaps sensation Alphonso Davies with the visitors ahead 1-0.
Referee Robert Sibiga halted play soon after and went to video review while the Sounders’ bench held its collective breath. They’d seen Chad Marshall ejected two weeks earlier on a similar review they later got overturned, but couldn’t afford to lose Alonso the way Vancouver was pressuring.
“I was a little concerned,’’ Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “But when they flashed the tackle up on the big screen, it wasn’t a yellow. I mean, Ozzie clearly won the ball, so I don’t know what they were looking at.’’
Schmetzer scrambled to get his bench ready, just in case. Sibiga returned and flashed the yellow. Not for the tackle itself, but Alonso’s subsequent protest about the review.
It was a major bullet dodged, especially once the ensuing free kick awarded the Whitecaps wound up stopped by Frei. Barely a minute later, Whitecaps fullback Brett Levis was being harangued by Nicolas Lodeiro near the sideline and flung an errant pass out to nobody that landed straight on Ruidiaz’s foot for a clear-cut breakaway.
Ruidiaz feinted a move, then shifted left to deke goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic before depositing the ball into a wide-open net.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,’’ Ruidiaz said of his first multi-goal game since his July transfer. “But the most important thing is we got the win and the three points.’’
The 2-0 lead provided the Sounders just enough cushion to withstand the Whitecaps, who outshot them 21-7. Seattle vaulted into fifth place in the Western Conference standings, tied at 44 points with Portland but holding the edge because of a game in-hand.
Just as importantly, they closed to a point behind fourth-place Real Salt Lake with two games in hand and two points behind third-place Los Angeles FC also having played one fewer match. Finishing among the top four teams in the standings is paramount for the Sounders if they hope to avoid a knockout-round playoff match on the road.
They also still have a shot at a top-two finish and first-round bye, largely because they somehow kept a second Vancouver ball from entering their net.
“I think teams always make their luck,’’ Schmetzer said. “I think Stef (Frei) had to make a couple of big saves. Defenders were laying themselves out to block shots. So, we’re making our own luck. But again, tonight, I think we were fortunate in a couple of moments.’’
Frei was his usual stellar self, but had little to do with striker Nicolas Mezquida missing the net on a point-blank chance in the 11thminute. The Sounders also could have defended better after going up a pair, but allowed Kamara to get a header away off a Mezquida corner kick four minutes into first-half stoppage time that gave the Whitecaps new life.
Vancouver nearly scored again seconds later from deep in the box. Things didn’t get any easier with Kamara hitting the post and several dangerous crosses in the second half that Alonso and others valiantly swatted away.
“It was pretty intense, like a playoff game,’’ Alonso said. “They were only a point behind us (in the standings) coming in and pushed hard to get three points. It was a big game for us to come here and win.’’
And they showed it afterward, gathering in the stadium’s far corner – where a throng of Sounders supporters cheered – as they hoisted the third Cascadia Cup of their MLS era and fifth overall. For now, they are champions of their regional season series with the Whitecaps and Timbers and plowing onward for a shot at something bigger.