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MLS Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps at Seattle Sounders

Oct 8, 2013, 10:24 PM EDT

Osvaldo Alonso AP
  • Seattle clinch 2013 Cascadia Cup with win.
  • Vancouver could be eliminated from post season with loss, Colorado result in San Jose.
  • Sounders missing Brad Evans, Eddie Johnson.

Seats are getting warmer in the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver’s undergoing their second straight late season dip, while Seattle is coming off another all-too-common, inexplicable thrashing. Because both of the teams expect better, you’re starting to hear rumblings:

Could Martin Rennie be in trouble? What about Sigi Schmid’s future in Seattle?

That’s the underlying tension behind tomorrow’s Cascadia Cup match at CenturyLink Field, with the Supporters Shield-contending Seattle Sounders hosting a Vancouver Whitecaps team desperately seeking a playoff lifeline (10:30 p.m. Eastern). Coming off a 5-1 shellacking in Colorado, Seattle sit one point behind Real Salk Lake in the West yet may still be favorites to claim the Supporters’ Shield (games in hand, yo).  Vancouver, on the other hand, are all but eliminated unless they claim full points in Seattle.

Lose to the Sounders, and the Whitecaps will be six points back of Colorado and Los Angeles with two games left. Los Angeles would win a tie-breaker thanks to their edge in wins (LA: 14; VWFC: 11), while Vancouver could edge the Rapids on goals scored (44-42, right now). That sounds nice, but Vancouver would still need to a.) win their last two games, b.) have Colorado lose their remaining three to bring the tie-breaking into play, and c.) have San Jose only claim one point (at most) in their season’s last two games after beating the Rapids on Wednesday. So … while it’s not mathematically certain, if Vancouver loses on Wednesday, they’re done.

That’s why things are heating up for Martin Rennie. Last season the first-year coach got his team into the playoffs and gave LA a scare in the four-five game, but a nose-dive after mid-season tinkering made the young Scot’s first year more learning experience than success. Unfortunately, whatever was learned hasn’t translated into better 2013 results. Again, Vancouver’s stumbled as the leaves have turned.

Camilo’s Sunday goal salvaged a draw and may have quieted the inevitable: Discussion of Rennie’s job. That’s not to say the talk hasn’t already begun. If Vancouver bows out of the playoff race with two games left, the thread through the coach’s two MLS seasons will be talented teams with promising starts undone by mid-season tinkering. Should Bob Lenarduzzi trust Rennie to get it right a third time around?

A similar discussion could explode in Seattle should the Sounders stumble home. As with Rennie, there are already whispers about whether Sigi Schmid’s the right man for the job, complaints that intensified after showing’s like Sunday’s. The 5-1 in loss commerce (tied for worst in the team’s MLS history) was reminiscent of their 4-0 defeat in Carson on May 26. Fans also remember the first leg of last year’s conference final in LA (3-0), the 6-1 loss in Torreon last March, and  the 3-0 loss in Sandy to open the 2011 playoffs. Though Seattle’s had more then their fair share of favorable scorelines during that time, people see one of the league’s most talented clubs and ask why they seem particularly prone to getting inexplicably blown out.

The situation around Schmid is much more complicated than Rennie’s, though. The former Galaxy, Crew boss is one of the most successful coaches in Major League Soccer history. Whether we know the secret to his success or not, there’s no way he’s a bad coach. He also enjoys a status that’s more akin to owner than a coach. Leaving a successful Columbus team to move to the northwest when Seattle joined MLS, Schmid became the face of the franchise. It would take an unexpectedly poor finish from the Sounders to bring his job into question, though given the high standards they set for themselves at the start of the season (and the huge amounts of money they’ve spent sense), another early playoff exit could meet that “unexpectedly poor” threshold.

Particularly with the acquisitions of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, life is becoming an increasingly bottom line business in Seattle. That Schmid is perceived as being decisive in letting the Portugal-shredding Fredy Montero go also plays into this, too. The team’s had great U.S. Open Cup success, but with the Supporters’ Shield in their grasp and MLS Cup glory an expressed preseason goal, slipping in October and November may no longer be acceptable.

If Seattle drops points on Wednesday, they’ll still be in the thick of it for the Supporters’ Shield. And of course, they’re going to the playoffs. But where once it looked like the Shield was theirs to lose, a draw against a weakened New York and a thrashing by Colorado have brought the Red Bulls, Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, and maybe even Portland into the middle of the picture. Given the hunger in Seattle for some non-U.S. Open Cup hardware, dropping home points to Vancouver could calcify dissension at the season’s most inopportune moment.

So the Sounders will have to overcome the losses of Brad Evans, a crucial part of their midfield, and Eddie Johnson, their most valuable player this season. Both are with the U.S. men’s national team. They’ll have to overcome the uncertainties they brought back from Colorado and put themselves back on the road to the Supporters’ Shield.

And if they do, all but eliminating Vancouver from the postseason in the process, Seattle will take the heat on their coach and add it to pressure mounting on their rivals’.

  1. talgrath - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    I think anything less than at least winning the division this year would be the end of Schmid’s time in Seattle. Seattle’s owners have spent too much money handing Schmid one of the most talented and deepest teams in MLS for anything less than winning the west to be considered a success at this point. Yes, there have been a lot of injuries and yes there have been a lot of call-ups for the World Cup, but for a team this talented, missing a few guys should not result in Seattle getting blown out by a team spending a third of the money that was several places down the table. Whether or not he realizes it, this is do or die for Schmid, I think.

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