Photo: courtesy of Seattle Sounders FC
A dreary 0-0 tie featured the returns to action of Seattle midfielders Ozzie Alonso and Gustav Svensson, who both came on as subs
following injury layoffs. As probable starters, they can buttress a squad into which head coach Brian Schmetzer can draft Clint Dempsey, a spectator on Sunday because of a red-card
suspension incurred on the last day of the regular season.
Dempsey hasn’t appeared in a playoff match since 2015; a heart condition sidelined him in August 2016 and he took no part in the Sounders’ late-season surge and postseason march to its first MLS Cup.
“It’s always difficult to be on the sidelines,” Dempsey said. “You want to make an impact and try and help the team in any way possible. You want to be out there to try and help your teammates, but we played really well and got the job done in terms of seeing out the first leg and now it’s about the second.”
Seattle didn’t have all that much trouble “seeing out” the goalless result in Vancouver. ‘Caps head coach Carl Robinson, beset by his own injury issues, deployed his team more to prevent an away goal than score one in front of more than 27,000 fans. He will probably use the same tactics for game two with Dempsey joining forward Will Bruin and playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro in the attack.
In September, Dempsey and Lodeiro each scored a goal in a 3-0 Sounders’ defeat of Vancouver at the Clink. The other scorer, Victor Rodriguez, missed the first playoff game as well as the season finale with a strained quadriceps and is questionable for Thursday. The absence of Rodriguez and returns of Alonso, Svensson, and Dempsey may prompt Schmetzer to use Cristian Roldan as the fourth man in an attacking quartet.
Two ‘Caps who also came off the bench in the first leg and are questionable for game two, Cristian Techera and Yordy Reyna, will leave the ‘Caps offense shorthanded if they again start on the bench. Robinson says the pair is “touch and go” for the second leg. They were second and third, respectively, on the team in scoring with seven and six goals. They could be perfectly poised to come off the bench if the score is tight, but keeping the game close will post a stern test for a ‘Caps defense anchored by Defender of the Year finalist Kendall Waston and central partner Tim Parker.
Former Sounder Fredy Montero, who led the ‘Caps with 14 goals, labored in the first leg and in Seattle’s 3-0 win in September managed just two shots. One of them, a searing free kick, forced a superb fingertip save by keeper Stefan Frei. Seattle should control the majority of possession but if they defend sloppily and give away free kicks close to Frei’s goal Montero could wreak some redemption.