Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Armchair Analyst: 'Caps lack of intent the story as Seattle cruise through

The damning part wasn't when Clint Dempsey lashed home a left-footed strike from the top of the box in the 56th minute of play, nor was it 32 minutes later when he snuck back post to add a second. Nor was the damning part in the first leg, when the Whitecaps sat back in their own third, comfortable and content with a scoreless home draw, and it wasn't in the first half of this night's 2-0 loss in the second leg at CenturyLink Field.

The damning part came between Dempey's two goals, the just-over-a-half-hour timespan during which the Vancouver Whitecaps had to play a goal down but with the series still in reach.

  • It was clearly Carl Robinson's plan, from the first kick, to bunker at least eight deep and attack by way of lumped long-balls to Fredy Montero. While this should rightly be identified as a cynical and aesthetically displeasing approach to this game of ours, it might also be argued that doing the above was Vancouver's best chance of staying in the series, that had they gone out and tried to meet the Sounders toe-to-toe they would've been overrun; ground to dust; weighed, measured and found wanting.

  • The goal of the bunker-and-hoof is the old smash-and-grab. You keep it close, then with little time left you throw numbers forward in hopes of finding a one-goal-against-the-run-of-play game-winner, tactics be damned. A deflected shot from the top of the box? A knockdown header? A simple miscue in defense? The 'Caps have done work with all of the above in times not long past.

  • Whether scoreless or down 1-0, the situation for Vancouver was the same: One goal takes the series. They didn't need a win in Seattle, just a result. And so Dempsey's first goal didn't really change the calculus.


  • Yes, yes, the damning part:
    Even with just 30 minutes left, even with the result they wanted still plausibly achievable, the 'Caps still lacked...

    The basic will to attack. As the clock hit 60, then 70, then 80... nothing. And not for the first time:

    I don't know why they never pushed numbers forward. I am baffled.

    There is not much to deconstruct from this game in a tactical sense. Vancouver put one shot on target across the two legs and never came within a mile of scoring. Neither fullback ever got forward on the overlap, and Montero was ably marshaled by the Sounders center backs, and Seattle didn't make enough unforced errors to open up any real gaps off of turnovers.

    That meant the 'Caps were going to have to break Seattle down with the ball, and even at the best of times this team isn't really coached to do that. These were not the best of times, of course, as Vancouver were too busy trying to integrate a brand new starter in central midfield – Nosa Igiebor, who has inexplicably made his way into the lineup over the past 2 1/2 weeks, throwing off any sort of rhythm this team once claimed – to figure out how to hit their wingers in stride, on the run, in spots where they could put pressure on the Sounders fullbacks. They couldn't play as a team because they really were a bunch of loosely connected players still in the infancy of learning each other's tendencies.

    On Seattle's side, the story is simple: When they moved forward off the ball with purpose, they were able to open Vancouver up. It should have led to a penalty in the first half, and it did lead to the goal in the second:

    Brian Schmetzer will want to have a word with his team about those runs, and also about being too slow and lackadaisical in the build-up in general. When that happens it's like all the other players are ceding their agency to Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro, asking them to just make a special play rather than working as a full unit. Dempsey and Lodeiro can (did) do that often enough, but why reduce the margins so sharply? When Seattle play as a team, move as a team, they can crack even a solidly bunkered-in defense.

    That conversation can wait for another time, though. Right now Schmetzer and his Sounders will celebrate moving on to the Western Conference Championship, a right they surely earned and one the 'Caps never looked like they knew they were playing for.