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Lodeiro brace gives Seattle’s faint playoff hopes a lifeline

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In Major League Soccer’s forgiving playoff structure, there’s almost always a way back into the mix.

When your team has a talent like Nicolas Lodeiro, your chances get magnified quite a bit.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Lodeiro scored twice, once from the spot, and Seattle debuted its new Designated Player in a 2-0 Cascadia Cup win over Vancouver on Saturday.

Seattle is now eight points back of the West’s final playoff spot with 15 to play in its season. And the Sounders join Portland on three Cascadia Cup points, with the Timbers beating Seattle in the other cup match of the season.

Raul Ruidiaz came off the bench for the Sounders, and showed early glimpses of why Seattle wanted the World Cup participant from Peru.

The ‘Caps finished the match with 10 men thanks to a red card on Efrain Juarez, who saw yellow and then made contact with the referee.

The second goal took a vicious turn on its way to making goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic look capital-A awkward.

Watch Live: Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (Lineups and Live Stream)

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Things are about to get bonkers in the Pacific Northwest — extra bonkers, even — as the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps meet in Washington to sort out a number of key MLS issues (Watch live on NBCSN, 10 p.m. ET¬†and online via Live Extra).

First, there’s the Cascadia Cup, as the winner will bring home the coveted trophy fought for by the two clubs as well as the Portland Timbers.

[ RELATED: Latest MLS standings ]

Then there’s the Supporters Shield, another bit of hardware the Sounders can win. They are locked in a battle with red-hot Los Angeles for that honor.

Oh, and Vancouver can again leapfrog Portland into the driver’s seat for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

Lineups

Seattle Sounders: Frei, Evans, C. Marshall, Anibaba, Gonzalez, Neagle, Alonso, Azira, Pappa, Dempsey Martins

Subs: Hahnemann, Cooper, Barrett, Rose, Pineda, Scott, Traore

Vancouver Whitecaps: Ousted, Harvey, Waston, Laba, Hurtado, Manneh, Rosales, Teibert, Beitashour, O’Brien, Morales

Subs: Tornaghi, Adekugbe, Ballouchy, Leverón, Sampson, Mezquida, Froese

Seattle, Vancouver do battle for Cascadia Cup live on NBCSN

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This is it. On Friday the Cascadia Cup will head to either Seattle or Vancouver, to the United States of America or Canada. You will not want to miss this one.

With local pride, playoff positions and a coveted cup on the line, the Seattle Sounders welcome the Vancouver Whitecaps to CenturyLink Field (Watch live on NBCSN, 10 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra) in what promises to be a thrilling clash.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

The Sounders are currently top of the Cascadia standings and know a win or a draw would seal their first success since 2011. However, defending Cascadia champs Vancouver stand in their way and with¬†Carl Robinson’s men desperate for a win to enhance their hopes of making the MLS playoffs, a victory¬†would seal a seconds-straight title as ‘Kings of Cascadia’. In terms of the league standings, the ‘Caps sit just one place outside the playoff spots in the West and are two points behind Cascadia’s third team, the Portland Timbers, in the postseason hunt.

With just two regular season games left, fans¬†of the¬†Timbers are¬†urging bitter rivals¬†Seattle to win on Friday night (that does not happen often) adding an extra spice to this one. Plus, there’s more. Seattle are leading the Supporters’ Shield race and are joint-top of the Western Conference with the LA Galaxy, so they won’t be letting up either.

So, it’s quite simple, a win or draw for Seattle sees them lift the Cascadia Cup, while a win for Vancouver means they’ll be heading back to British Columbia with the trophy and be back in the playoff spots in the West.

Get ready, this could get crazy at CenturyLink as the final Cascadia clash of the 2014 season is upon us.

Playoff preview? Stakes create a slippery slope for Seattle in Portland

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Seattle’s in free fall. We know that. We talked about that here. But if they can’t stop that free fall before the final whistle Sunday at JELD-WEN Field, they may feel the edge of Sunday’s double-edged sword.

That’s because in addition to losing the Cascadia Cup (Vancouver claims it with a Portland result), a loss in Portland makes a playoff match with the Timbers far more likely. Be that by creating more two-versus-three scenarios in the West or paving Portland’s path to the top seed (while bringing fourth into play for themselves), a loss tomorrow makes it more likely Sunday’s game at JELD-WEN won’t be Seattle’s last this season.

[MORE: Seattle routed as Manneh posts first career hat trick.]

Currently one point behind Real Salt Lake, Seattle’s been holding out hope that once they make up their games in hand (as they have over the past couple of months) the Supporters’ Shield will be theirs.¬†But if they lose at JELD-WEN, their games in hand will be gone,¬†and they’ll have fallen to fifth in the Supporter’s Shield race. They’ll be two behind New York and Portland, one behind Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City.

They’ll also be within reach of Los Angeles, currently three points behind Seattle. Come Monday morning, LA will have a game in hand on the Sounders with the teams scheduled to end their regular seasons against each other at CenturyLink. That match could be the difference between playing in the four-five game and going straight into the conference semifinals.

That’s Seattle’s slippery slope, one that could see a team positioned for the Shield playing in the four-five game in a couple of weeks, and while that scenario does involve a lot of ifs aligning, the hypotheticals gain traction in the face of two huge losses and a schedule that includes Portland and Los Angeles.¬†If Seattle can get a result tomorrow, they staunch the bleeding and continue their Supporters’ Shield push. If they can’t, this run goes from bad to worse¬†oh my God what’s going on, we so needed to get a result-bad.

(Incidentally, even a draw would see Seattle lose control of their Supporters’ Shield destiny, as well as their path to the West’s No. 1 seed.)

So where does the “far more likely” to meet the Timbers comes into play? Consider the Timbers’ half of the equation, though stay with me. This is where the¬†ifs¬†really start flying around:

source: Getty Images
Caleb Porter’s Portland Timbers would vault to second in the Supporters’ Shield chase with a Sunday win over rival Seattle. (Photo: Getty Images.)
  • With a Portland win, they go top of the West with 53 points but still have a game with Real Salt Lake, who have two wins and a draw from their three 2013 meetings with the Timbers this year. All-time, Portland’s won one of eight meetings with RSL. With Jason Kreis’s team capable of out-Portering Caleb Porter, Portland could find themselves back in second before their season-ender with Chivas USA, making a two-three playoff meeting with Seattle more likely.
  • And if Portland beats both Seattle and Real Salt Lake? Then only Seattle can keep them from first in the West, though that would involve the free-falling Sounders to reverse a three-game losing streak and beat both Dallas and Los Angeles. With that momentum, though, Seattle may be headed toward the four-five game.
  • If Seattle and Portland draw, the teams remain second and third in the West, and while RSL and LA will have a lot to say about whether that order stays the same, sharing points will make a conference semifinal meeting more likely.

But let’s not forget one very important, very possible if: If, Seattle wins, they go first in the West, and although that increases the chance Portland will fall to fourth (and potentially meet Seattle in the semifinals’ one-four match), the Timbers’ game with Chivas and Seattle’s finale with LA could still leave Portland third, meaning the Cascadia rivals wouldn’t meet until the conference finals (if at all).

And if that meeting happens, Seattle’s confidence will be better for having won at JELD-WEN. Their run-in’s been littered with enough doubts already. Might as well not cede any advantage (mental or otherwise) to their rivals.

Basically, given the nature of the West, anything’s still possible, but if Seattle loses, a lot of these once-remote scenarios come much closer to fruition. Hence the importance of a result tomorrow.

Blitzed: Sounders routed again as Kekuta Manneh records first career hat trick

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Two games, nine goals allowed, and a sea of doubts is all Seattle has to show for their last week’s games, with a hat trick from rookie Kekuta Manneh sending the Sounders to an embarrassing 4-1 loss to the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps. Combined with their 5-1 defeat on Saturday in Colorado, the Sounders have entered a free fall.

Consider some numbers. Ahead of their trip to Commerce, the Sounders had only allowed 29 goals this season, tied for lowest total in Major League Soccer. They’re now seventh in goals allowed, Vancouver’s four-goal onslaught ending Seattle’s 12-game home unbeaten run.

Manneh opened the scoring in the 12th minute when John Kennedy Hurtado’s poor clearance allowed Daigo Kobayashi to put the 18-year-old in on goal. Three minutes before half, the Gambian striker — making only his fourth career start — teamed with Camilo to double the lead as well as his career goal total. Coming into the night, he’s scored twice in Major League Soccer, but thanks to a lead-footed Seattle defense, he was up to four by intermission.

It didn’t take long for the first round pick to complete his hat trick, with Kobayashi feeding Manneh through the right side of the Sounder defense for an all-too-easy third goal, going five-hole on Michael Gspurning.

That was the story on each of Vancouver’s first three goals: Send Manneh through; watch him score – a plan make possible by some uncharacteristically terrible defending. Not only were the Sounders unable to match the Whitecap attacker’s speed, but they were poorly positioned to try and mitigate it. And cutting of Vancouver’s access to their focal point? No chance. Throw in a lack luster and error-prone effort from the players and Seattle had laid the tracks for a second-straight rout.

source: AP
Gambian attacker Kekuta Manneh entered Wednesday’s game with two career goals. Before an hour had passed in Seattle, the first round pick was on five, his hat trick propelling the Whitecaps to a 4-1 win at CenturyLink Field. (Photo: AP Photo.)

For a brief period in the second half, though, it appeared the Sounders would fight back, with Mauro Rosales pulling his team within two half-way through the period. But caught on a break in the 82nd minute, Seattle saw goalkeeper Michael Gspurning let them down, allowing a Nigel Reo-Coker shot from right of goal to go off his hands, through his legs (again), and into the net – a goal that sent Seattle’s normally patient crowd streaming toward the exits.

Among the epidemic of lopsided results Seattle’s suffered over the last two years, this one may have been the most disappointing. It came after another rout, on that should have put the team on high alert. But instead of fighting to regain their form, Seattle allowed Vancouver to run through them. A fortnight away from season’s end, this team has real problems, and although they were without two key pieces (Brad Evans, Eddie Johnson), it’s unclear how either of them would have been decisive tonight.

If, as we mentioned in yesterday’s preview, this match was going to shine light on either Martin Rennie or Sigi Schmid’s plight, we couldn’t have gotten a clearly clue. Martin Rennie had his team prepared for a must-win game and saw his players respond. In contrast, it was one of Seattle’s worst games of the year, right up there with their performances in Carson and Commerce.

But remember: Seattle controls their Supporters’ Shield fate – a needed piece of perspective. Without a doubt, the team is playing poorly, but they haven’t lost anything yet. They could still with the Shield. They could still claim Cascadia Cup (which they would have with a win tonight). And tonight’s loss does almost nothing to damage their MLS Cup hopes. They just need to get their act together. Desperately.

Vancouver, on the other hand, finally gets their breakthrough win in Seattle. Without it, their postseason dreams were toast. Now they’re within three points of Colorado and Los Angeles ahead of a season-ending home-and-home with the Rapids. They also lead the Cascadia Cup standings. If Seattle doesn’t get three points in Portland on Sunday, the coveted regional trophy is theirs.

Oh, how quickly things change for Martin Rennie, who suddenly has a landmark result to use in his defense. For Sigi Schmid, however, the prosecution was just handed a damning piece of evidence.