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May 24, 2014 at 12:47 AM

Sounders FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, preview and prediction

Sounders FC (8-3-1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (4-2-4)
Saturday, May 24, 4 p.m., BC Place, Vancouver, British Columbia
TV/radio: JOEtv (KZJO, channel 22/cable 10), KIRO 97.3 FM
Spanish TV/radio: THIS-TV (KOMO2), ESPN Deportes 1490 AM
Referee: Ismail Elfath

KEY WHITECAPS PLAYERS

M Pedro Morales — The Chilean newcomer has earned his designated player money as the team’s points leader so far this season (eight, three goals and two assists). The 28 year old, who played the past two season for Malaga in Spain, has fit in seamlessly at a central playmaker. He took a season-high six shots in his last game at BC Place, scoring twice in a 3-2 win against San Jose. If the Whitecaps will be looking to get the ball in behind to their speedy forwards, Morales will be the key to that service.

F/M Kekuta Manneh — The name probably still stings for the Sounders and Sounders fans after the last meeting between these teams. The Gambian teenager netted a hat trick in under an hour, leading the Whitecaps to a 4-1 win at CenturyLink Field last year, a result that prevented Seattle from clinching the Cascadia Cup. He shares the team lead with three goals even though he’s only started four of his 10 games played. Some think he might not be long for this league with nine goals and three assists in less than 1,200 minutes played.

D Jay DeMerit — This might be the last season for the 34-year-old American center back, and it’s good to see him getting regular time. His 720 minutes this year are already more than last year, when he suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in the 2013 opener. With the World Cup coming back to the forefront, it might be worth reminding that the Wisconsin native started all four games for the U.S. men’s national team in the last World Cup in South Africa. He’s faced world-class forwards before, which will be good experience ahead of facing Obafemi Martins.

KEY MATCHUPS

Erik Hurtado vs. Chad Marshall — Hurtado might not be one of the Whitecaps forwards many fans know much about, but he’s quickly carving out a larger role for himself. With Darren Mattocks unlikely to feature due to a hamstring strain, Vancouver’s other first-round pick from the 2013 draft (Manneh being the other) could be in line to make his second straight start. He made the most of the last one, scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win against Columbus. Marshall, though, isn’t like those Crew center backs. He’s better.

Marco Pappa vs. Jordan Harvey — As coach Sigi Schmid said this week, Pappa is getting his swagger back after a difficult start to the season. His attacking influence in midfield will be needed, too, with Clint Dempsey away and Lamar Neagle nursing a hamstring injury. It would seem to be the perfect time for his first goal of the season. Harvey, however, has been a model of consistency at left back for the Whitecaps. He’s the only Vancouver field player to have played all 900 minutes this season and — random fact — he’s engaged to former American Idol finalist Kimberly Caldwell.

MLS leaders vs. Cascadia Cup holders — This is a pretty intriguing matchup on a lot of fronts. Seattle will be looking to answer the 4-1 beating last season, perhaps the biggest result in the 2013 Cascadia Cup race and one that saw the trophy head north of the border for the first time in the MLS era. On the big picture, it looks like Vancouver might finally have turned a corner and found some consistency under Carl Robinson, the team’s fourth coach in four seasons. A big result against the Sounders, who boast the league’s most points, could go a long way.

PREDICTION

One factor that could play a big role in the game? The BC Place turf.

It came up a few times in interviews with Schmid and defender Zach Scott, and the surface appears to play into the strengths of the young, quick Vancouver forwards up top. I would not be surprised to see the hosts get in behind the Sounders’ veteran back-line a time or two.

Ultimately, I think I see the Whitecaps taking this one…

Vancouver 2, Sounders 1

VAN — Kekuta Manneh (Pedro Morales) 18′
SEA — Marco Pappa (un) 40′
VAN — Sebastien Fernandez (Russell Tiebert) 76′

*     *     *

How do you see this one playing out?

| More in Preview and prediction, Sounders FC

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