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Seattle Sounders match against Vancouver begins critical stretch of season

Jul 7, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; Seattle Sounders defender Will Bruin (17) controls the ball past fallen New England Revolution defender Antonio Delamea Mlinar (19) during the second half of their 0-0 tie at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Sitting in 10th place in the Western Conference halfway through the MLS season, the Seattle Sounders are in need of a boost. That opportunity may come at home against the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday in a Cascadia Cup clash with big implications for both squads.

Seattle’s next three matches in conference play are against teams below the cutoff line for the playoffs (Vancouver, San Jose and Minnesota), giving the club a chance to pull off what is essentially a six-point swing as it looks to rebound from a disastrous 4-9-5 start to the year.

“They’re already important games just based on our own place in the standings,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said Thursday. “I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We are looking at Vancouver, trying to figure out ways to come up with a good game plan and win that game, then we’ll focus on San Jose and the rest of the crew.”

Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson’s sides traditionally are very difficult to break down, especially on the road. Known for sitting in on defense and trying to catch teams on the counterattack, the Whitecaps have become known for playing what is sometimes referred to as “Robbo-ball.”

This year, though, the Whitecaps have failed to be as air-tight at the back. The club has conceded 40 goals in 20 matches, the third-highest margin in the league.

Schmetzer discussed what goes in to breaking down the Whitecaps.

“It’s a couple of things,” Schmetzer said. “Obviously, if you can get in transition before they have time to set up, that’s the first objective. If you can establish possession in their part of the field, then you have to find that balance of being patient, trying to stretch them in different area. Stretch them width-wise. Finding the pockets in between the lines. I think we have players that can play in between the lines and make an impact that way. The third one is set pieces. They’ve got some big guys, but can we be clever. Can we work on a few things and surprise them? That always helps.”

Sounders forward Will Bruin, who leads the team with five goals in 15 starts, said capitalizing on the team’s chances would be key.

“Vancouver is always a tough team to play against,” Bruin said. “They kind of defend deep in two blocks. They’ve got big centerbacks. They’re always organized, tough to take down, but that being said, we’re at home. I think if we keep them defending for long spells, space is going to open up. We just need to convert on those opportunities. They’re very sound defensively, so they’re going to be tough, but we’re going to get our opportunities.”

Converting has been difficult for Seattle in 2018. The club has scored a league-lowest 16 goals in league play, six fewer than the 4-11-4 Colorado Rapids. Seattle will be hoping that the addition of Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz, who teammates praised for his performance in training this week, will add to the club’s anemic attack.

Still, Bruin said the club, unbeaten in its last three matches, is still waiting for a breakout moment to kickstart a mid-season run as the Sounders look to make up the 11 points that separate them from playoff contention.

“I don’t think it feels like it’s happened yet,” Bruin said. “We’re getting closer, we’ve put in some good road results. At times it probably hasn’t been the most fun to watch, but that’s what you’ve got to do this time of year. You’ve got to weather storms, get points. (Last week) would probably be one of our tougher weeks in the schedule, now it’s time to get three points, we’ve got some big games. I think this week is a big opportunity for us.”

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