MLS Soccer

Fast-starting Whitecaps shirk favorite’s role

The Seattle Sounders haven’t beaten the Vancouver Whitecaps in their last five tries, and when they try again Saturday at BC Place, they’ll likely be without star forward Obafemi Martins.

Still, the Whitecaps want no part of the favorites’ role.

“We’re still the underdogs,” Vancouver coach Carl Robinson said. “We’ve got off to a decent start, and we sit above them at the moment in the standings, but it makes no difference. We know they’re a fantastic club, they’ve got a fantastic manager in charge, they’ve been in the playoffs (six) years. Whichever way people want to spin it, we’re still the underdog, and we’ll take it.”

That’s becoming a harder case to make. Vancouver opened the weekend atop the Western Conference standings, and just one point behind D.C. United for the Supporters Shield lead.

And even though they’ve never finished ahead of Seattle since joining MLS in 2011, they are 2-0-3 against the Sounders over the past five meetings.

“The last couple of years, they’ve been a lot tougher for us,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s just a matter of us doing what we know how to do and playing good soccer and win games. Things happen like that. Sometimes things go in phases where you dominate an opponent, and then they dominate you. Carl’s done a good job: He’s built the team well. They’re a team based upon their speed and their counterattacks and getting forward quickly. We just have to be ready.”

The Sounders’ chances seemed to take a jolt Friday with Schmid’s announcement that Martins is expected to miss the match because of a leg injury. Schmid indicated that X-rays showed no serious damage and the club expects Martins back next week — but not Saturday.

Martins’ six goals puts him second on the team behind Clint Dempsey’s seven, and he opened the weekend tied for third in MLS.

Schmid said possible replacements could include Chad Barrett or Lamar Neagle; or he could switch formations with Dempsey alone up top.

Regardless, Robinson refused to regard even Martins’ absence as an advantage.

“If Chad comes in or Neagle goes and plays up top, they’ve got some fantastic players who don’t play regularly,” he said. “We’ll have to deal with it. It’ll make it tougher, because players who aren’t playing regularly step into the team, they’ve got a point to prove because they want minutes. It’s going to be difficult whether Martins plays or he doesn’t.”

Vancouver’s recent run of success over Seattle also includes taking the past two Cascadia Cups, and the Whitecaps even clinched the 2014 Cup by winning a head-to-head match with the Sounders in Seattle.

That’s no small thing, said midfielder Mauro Rosales, who is in his second season in Vancouver after playing in Seattle from 2011-2013.

Rosales said the Sounders are the Whitecaps’ biggest rival — bigger even than against fellow-Canadian clubs Toronto and Montreal.

“I think that kind of rivalry that is in the Northwest between Portland and Seattle and Vancouver got more strong than the (Canadian) teams we are playing,” he said. “They’re from the other conference, that we don’t play much throughout the year. We are facing each other six times with Portland and Seattle. We love that rivalry that is in the Northwest, and playing that is one of the most exciting games. Playing here, playing in Portland, playing in Seattle: It’s always very fun: fun to watch, fun to play.”