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Vancouver Whitecaps Vs. Seattle Sounders: Sounders Looking To Reclaim Cascadia Cup With Victory

With a win tonight the Seattle Sounders can bring home the Cascadia Cup and maintain a solid grip on a first-round playoff bye. To do it they'll have to overcome the loss of Mauro Rosales and deal with the threat posed by Whitecaps striker Eric Hassli.

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have not had the most impressive debut season. Their current record is the worst in the league and they lag far enough behind (six points) their closest "competitors" the New England Revolution that they're likely to finish the season with that same dubious distinction. They've won just four games all season, their -18 goal differential is better than only Toronto's -20 and their mark of 28 goals scored is worst in the league, as is their mark of 14 losses. Ever since an impressive 4-2 win over Toronto FC on the first day of the season it's been downhill for the Whitecaps and the entire season has been a massive struggle. Head coach Teitur Thordarson was fired on May 30th and after compiling a record of 1-5-6; his replacement Tom Soehn hasn't fared much better, the club posting a 3-9-4 mark under his guidance.

But despite the futility, the Whitecaps have had a few bright spots. High on the list of many Vancouver supporters would likely be the 2-2 draw in Seattle, equalized at the death thanks to Eric Hassli's goal-of-the-year wonderstrike. It wasn't a win for the Whitecaps but it certainly felt like one, and as far as Seattle was concerned it was arguably the most disappointing result of the season and the apex if a very frustrating stretch of games.

That Hassli was the hero in that game should be little surprise; it would be an overstatement to say that Hassli is the Whitecaps, but it wouldn't be as far off as it might seem. The enigmatic French striker has been the driving force of the Whiteaps attack, leading the club with 10 goals and creating space for teammates thanks to his distribution and off-ball movement. Hassli's mystique isn't all in his play of course; though he's been better behaved as of late, his early season flurry of bookings (including most amazingly the second yellow he received for removing his jersey after scoring, apparently thinking he would not be booked because he was wearing another jersey underneath the first) certainly helped to make an impression from the get-go.

Bizarre goal celebration logic aside, Hassli is clearly a very special player and if he were playing for a better team it's likely his numbers would be even better. He's not, however, and most MLS clubs have found that if the threat the big striker presents can be neutralized the Whitecaps don't have a great deal of other weapons in their arsenal. Camilo, the smaller half of Vancouver's striker pairing, has impressed at times but he's far from a consistent weapon and beyond him there's very little; the Brazlian's 8 goals are second to Hassli on the team, but no other Whitecaps player has scored more than twice. Camilo is creative enough and Hassli powerful enough to threaten, but if the supply to the front is cut off Vancouver is in a great deal of trouble.

In Osvaldo Alonso, the Sounders have a player that is more than capable of disrupting that supply. With a player as good as Hassli there's always a threat, but to expect Vancouver to give the Sounders back line a great deal of cause for concern isn't especially reasonable. And though the Whitecaps defense hasn't been nearly as incompetent as their attack, it hasn't been especially good either. The return of Jay DeMerit from injury has given Vancouver's back line a boost, but this is still a team that can have gaudy numbers put up against them on any given day. The key for Seattle will be whether or not they can continue to click without the team's most valuable player. This is the first of what is likely to be five games for which Mauro Rosales will be unavailable, and though Seattle is otherwise at close to full-strength losing a player of such importance is clearly going to change some things. The Sounders still have a host of potent attacking weapons and strong back line, and they should be considered heavy favorites. But this will be the first MLS game since the Sounders really began to click in late June that Rosales will not play, and it could give a preview of what we can expect from the team for the duration of his recovery.

The result against the Whitecaps is vitally important, both because a win would clinch the Cascadia Cup for the Sounders and playoff positioning is still very much in the air, but even three points will not be enough to completely silence the concerns of nervous fans. To do that Seattle will need to show the fluidity, cohesion, creative attacking play and ability to control the pace and flow of the game that have become their hallmarks. The Sounders have qualified for the playoffs and look to be headed towards a fairly high seed, but that's all for naught if the momentum is derailed by the loss of Rosales. The Sounders have a chance to show that they can still be a dominant force-as well as lift their first silverware of the season-tonight.