The Vancouver Whitecaps are three for three in road matches this season after taking the Seattle Sounders 2-0 at Lumen Field.

In a match rife with controversy, red cards and Whitecaps goals, Vancouver will be happy to get on whatever plane, train or automobile they can get their hands on and get across the border quickly as Sounders’ fans look for a scapegoat in a match where everything seemed to go wrong for the home side.

“We were the best team,” head coach Vanni Sartini said after the match. “We go away from here with three points. [We] deserve three points. Big not only for the [MLS] league but also the Cascadia Cup.”

With Fafà Picault out with his back strain, Sartini picked out Sam Adekugbe to get his first start as one of the wider no. 10s. While Adekugbe has waited patiently for his first start after his early season injury, it was a bit of a surprise to see his lineup where he did.

Sartini said Adekugbe’s position higher up the pitch was to help in his recovery and take away some of the defensive responsibilities while he does so.

Bjørn Inge Utvik drew into the back 3 again, this time taking the wide right centreback role as Mathías Laborda started on the bench.

Whitecaps’ MLS NEXT Pro player Jay Herdman was also signed to a short-term contract for this weekend’s match.

The first half was a tight affair, evenly balanced. And it would have stayed that way until the half, but a VAR check changed Seattle’s game plan.

Seattle centreback Jackson Ragen took down Ryan Gauld in the middle of the pitch from behind, his foot catching the Whitecaps’ captain high on the calf. VAR asked referee Ramy Touchan to check the pitchside monitor for a possible red card for serious foul play.

“Live, I didn’t see what it was a red card,” the head coach said. “Then, I saw that it was reviewed. And the studs were all on the calf of Ryan [Gauld], and he had literally six studs, six marks of the studs on the calf.”

In a check that took a few minutes, it was deemed to be a red card, and Ragen was sent packing. It was also the first time in a Whitecaps match that the new rule of a referee explaining a VAR check was used.

“It’s a point of emphasis of the league to be very punishing against a dangerous play from behind to protect the best players,” Sartini said.

The second half came with added expectation but also with a sense of opportunity. The Sounders moved into a more defensive system, and the Whitecaps switched Adekugbe and Ali Ahmed to try and get more movement down the left.

Sartini also changed the game plan a bit in order to take a grip on the numerical advantage.

“I told the guy to be extremely, extremely, extremely, extremely focused in the second half, and to do basically something that is counter-intuitive, that is keep possession and have a lot of patience when we have the ball. And being extremely aggressive when we don’t have the ball. And that’s the reason why we scored the two goals,” he said.

And 15 minutes in, it worked.

Andrés Cubas intercepted the ball at the top of Seattle’s 18-yard box and quickly dished it out to Adekugbe on the left. The Canadian played it back into the centre of the 18-yard box for Gauld, who was streaking in.

And the captain made short work on it, setting the Whitecaps up by one in the 58th minute.

Brian White added a second goal in the 71st minute in a similar fashion. 

This time, White stole the ball from Xavier Arreaga at the top of the 18-yard box and broke in of Stefan Frei with no other Sounder around. The shot beat Seattle’s goalkeeper at the near post, giving the Whitecaps a dominant position.

The Sounders, losing their heads at this point in the match, added another red card in the 75th minute, this time through Alex Roldan. The defender bowled into the back of Ahmed with no attempt at the ball.

Touchan did not need the pitchside monitor for this one. His hand immediately reached for the red card and sent Roldan on his way.

The Whitecaps had the match in their hands and did not let go. Their first win at Lumen Field since March 19, 2016, a strange one indeed.

Three road wins in three

The Whitecaps have played three matches on the road so far this year and have come after with wins in each one.

But that winning mentality on the road actually can be traced back much further.

“This year we’re better, but I got to say that our very efficient media department told me, I didn’t know, that in the last 10 months, we’ve been the best team in MLS on the road,” Sartini said. “Because in the second half of the season last year, we did four wins—LAFC, Chicago, Toronto and Portland—and so the last 13 games away, we [have] 24 points…there’s no team in the league that is better than this.”

Sartini said this road success began around the same time they switched from a back 4 to a back 3, but he did not attribute this as the reason.

“We come on the road and we are in charge of the game,” he said. “It happened in Dallas. It happened in San Jose and here. We’ll try to do the same in New York.”

Up next

The Whitecaps continue on the road, heading east to New York City to take on the Red Bulls. That match is on Saturday, April 27.

Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. PST.