The Seattle Sounders won the Cascadia Cup on Saturday — and the chance to start thinking again about other Cups that could lie ahead.
“You really want to be playing your best at the end of the season,” veteran defender Zach Scott said. “For all the ups and downs we went through in the middle part of the season, this is really the right time to be peaking, and it feels like if we can stay healthy we’re going to be playing our best soccer.”
The Sounders pushed their unbeaten run to four straight games Saturday with a 3-0 win at Vancouver. The goals came from Andreas Ivanschitz, his first in MLS; Gonzalo Pineda, his first this season; and Obafemi Martins, his club-high 13th of the year.
The Whitecaps (15-11-3) continue to hold the best record in MLS, but suddenly the Sounders (14-13-3) are just three points behind.
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“Everything is still within our grasp and is possible,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s just a matter of getting into the playoffs and doing what we need to from there.”
The Sounders once again are closer to the top seed in the playoffs than they are to missing them, as they moved five points clear of the Western Conference playoff red line.
However, those are issues to be settled over Seattle’s final four regular-season games.
What the Saturday result settled irrevocably is Seattle’s possession of the 2015 Cascadia Cup. The Sounders won the Cup with a 4-2-0 run, followed by Vancouver (2-2-2) and Portland (1-3-2). The Whitecaps were the two-time defending champions, while the Sounders reclaimed the Cup for the first time since 2011.
“We’ll enjoy that,” Schmid said. “Obviously the fans will enjoy that. … It just means that against two very good teams — both possibly being playoff teams: Vancouver and Portland — we’ve shown that we can win more games.”
Key to the Northwest competition was this extremely odd series with the Whitecaps. Seattle won the two games in Vancouver by a combined 5-0, while the Whitecaps took the lone match in Seattle, 3-0.
The Sounders were not happy with the way the visitors had celebrated that win at CenturyLink Field, and Schmid said he reminded his players before they took the pitch at sold-out BC Place on Saturday.
“I think for us we had to make sure that we focused on ourselves and not worry about that too much,” said Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who got his 10th shutout of the season. “It’s so late in the season; we need the three points desperately. For us to now also take a trophy home is great for the fans, but it’s also huge for our confidence.”
Both teams opened the match with their game plans comfortingly realized. The Sounders wanted possession, and dominated it. The Whitecaps were content to take their chances with cobra-quick counters on changes of possession, and they got those.
Seattle broke through in the 45th minute when Martins chipped a pass to Ivanschitz, who broke past his defender down the left flank where he fired the ball past goalkeeper David Ousted.
“It was a great pass from Oba, fantastic timing,” Ivanschitz said. “The angle wasn’t good for me then to finish. The only chance was to keep it on the ground, to hit it hard.”
The Whitecaps came out more aggressively in the second half, but that left them vulnerable to Seattle counters. Clint Dempsey assisted the Pineda goal in the 71st minute and the Martins goal in the 87th.
The Sounders and Whitecaps meet again at 7 p.m. Wednesday at CenturyLink Field, this time in group play of CONCACAF Champions League. Once again, the stakes will be high. A win by the Sounders sends them through to the knockout round. Any other result eliminates them, while keeping Vancouver’s chances alive for its game next month at CD Olimpia.
WEDNESDAY: CONCACAF Champions League, Vancouver at Seattle, 7 p.m., JOEtv