The Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps share more than one of the longest soccer rivalries in North America.
They both are sharing disappointing seasons — but for different reasons.
Vancouver (1-6-7, 10 points) is an expansion team. And unlike its fellow Major League Soccer newbie Portland Timbers, it has experienced a rough ride so far in the big league. The ‘Caps come to Seattle seeking their first victory since their inaugural match at home March 19.
Last week, the Whitecaps fired Teitur Thordarson, their Icelandic coach, before drawing at Chivas USA, 1-1, and losing at Real Salt Lake, 2-0. The Whitecaps are 0-5-2 on the road. That follows a pattern of unsettledness–the club had used 28 different players in an effort to find a winning combination.
Interim head coach Tony Soehn is hoping an old-fashioned “darby” match will be motivation to end a 13-game winless streak.
Theres not a whole lot of motivating to do, Soehn said. The players all are aware of the competitive nature in a derby. What a great situation to be in and nothing could be better to get a result against them.
On paper, the match-up should be a relatively easy one for the Sounders — even with injuries to key starters such as Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White. But the Sounders have been struggling with their own demons. This season of disappointment, so far, can be chalked up to one simple word — inconsistency.
Just when you think they’ve found their mojo in their improbable but inspiring away victory over Real Salt Lake, the Sounders fall flat against the Chicago Fire, resulting in a scoreless draw. Clearly, the synapse connections among the Sounders had collapsed during its disjointed and lackluster effort.
So much for building some big ‘mo following a big win against a big team that had compiled a 29-game unbeaten streak at home.
But that’s been the story of the Sounders this year. Big expectations. Big disappointments.
It almost seems like a repeat of last season. If you recall at this juncture last year, the Freddie Ljungberg controversy was reaching its zenith. The petulant Fredy Montero was, well, acting petulant and playing poorly. He had already been benched for one game against New York.
In this season’s version of the famous French phrase — “The more things change, they more they stay the same” — we should be close to reaching our moment of truth. Rave Green country is hoping the Sounders continue to follow last year’s pattern.
In the meantime, the fans have to endure the mess ups, the uneven play and disappointing results — not to mention the locker room drama. Montero, right on queue, has been benched by coach Sigi Schmid — this time much longer. No one really disputes that decision, even though he can argue that service to the forwards has been poor. No one will dispute that, either.
Simple truth is that Montero has to step it up — as do the rest of his teammates. Few other than veteran keeper Kasey Keller can really point to a consistently good season.
Last year’s narrative, however, is in play this year. Schmid, like he did with Ljungberg, has lashed out publicly at Montero, saying he’s paid to score goals and he ain’t anywhere close to doing what he’s paid to do (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point). The team has suffered through its share of serious and unfortunate injuries that also has meant key player combinations have been unable to flourish.
Yet, it’s Schmid’s responsibility to find the right combination. And it’s the responsibility of the front office to find players who can get the job done. Remember: the Sounders still have a designated player slot.
So, as the Sounders (5-4-6, 21 points) reach the midway point of the season, there could be cause for some optimism. If Seattle follows the pattern of last year, then Montero should be nearly ready to leave the doghouse and supply goals. The Sounders could pull a surprise player acquisition during the summer transfer season that could actually inspire the troops. Djibril Cisse anyone?
The Sounders could end up going on an extended winning (and I mean winning as opposed to not losing) streak that could still salvage the season.
And I can’t think of a better game than this one against a Cascadia Cup rival for start.
As Schmid noted, the ‘Caps are dangerous at the moment. Even if they are the Western Conference bottom dwellers, the rivalry and new coach could change the complexion of the match.
“But they are coming onto our field, they are coming into our ground and we want to protect that very sincerely,” Schmid said. “Its also very important for us to be the top dog in the Northwest and this is another game in that battle.”
The overall statistics — 18-8-11 at home all-time — reveal that the Sounders should retain “top dog” status against the Whitecaps. But then look a bit closer at this season, and uncertainty begins to creep. The Sounders are just 3-2-2 at home, so far. That hardly speaks of a home fortress.
Let’s hope last year’s story line repeats this year. If that happens, the Sounders best soccer should begin about now.