Winning one’s conference in Major League Soccer is never an easy task. Just ask the Vancouver Whitecaps. After blowing a golden opportunity at home in the midweek to stake their claim at the top spot ahead of the MLS Cup Playoffs, Vancouver is looking for redemption. They will have to find it in the toughest of places on Saturday night when they travel to Children’s Mercy Park to take on Sporting Kansas City.
Still with top spot on the West on the line this is perhaps the best opportunity for Vancouver to show their resolve. After watching the ‘Caps lose 4-0 on Wednesday night to the Seattle Sounders, Sporting have to see this match as their chance to stake claim to the top spot in the West. Vancouver at 6/1 underdogs (14-10-6, 48 points) still hold a one point advantage over the Portland Timbers (13-10-8, 47 points), Kansas City (12-6-11, 47 points), and Seattle (12-8-11, 47 points). However Vancouver will have to play three of their last four matches away from BC Place. Sporting Kansas City meanwhile have the easier run to end the season and are Western Conference Champions as favorites at 2/2 according to this site.
If past history is any indicator for how this match might go down then Sporting KC fans should be optimistic. Despite losing to Vancouver 2-0 earlier in the season Sporting have largely had the Cap number since the Cascadia side. Since 2012, Vancouver has beaten KC just twice in eleven matches with both wins coming at home. At Sporting Park they have yet to win a single match in five tries with a 1-1 draw back in 2012 as their lone positive result.
To stem the tide of bad results Carl Robinson’s side are going to need to create attacking chances on the counter-attack. Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes likes to control possession through the midfield and break down an opponent’s center-backs. Vancouver will likely use Cristian Techera speed on the outside to move a normally stodgy Sporting defense back on their heels. If Techera can break through look for him to set up forward Fredy Montero (13 goals, 6 assists) with long crosses into the box.
What will be interesting to see is how Sporting deals with talisman midfielder Yordy Reyna. In just half a season with the Whitecaps Reyna has become perhaps their most important attacking piece, scoring five game-winning goals for the Cascadian side. While his scoring touch late in matches has certainly brought Vancouver supporters to their feet, it is his movement off of the ball that really makes the difference. His ability to get behind defenders in key spots allows for Montero to operate with more space in the attacking third.
Seattle did a good job in the midweek at containing Reyna by having Cristian Roldan handle his speed and Osvaldo Alonso do the marking. Vermes will likely to replicate that tactic on Saturday with Roger Espinoza playing the role of Alonso and Illie Sanchez doing his best Roldan interpretation.
With Vancouver having already played and the midweek and not the best history at Sporting Park it would be easy to say this is a cakewalk for KC. But the ‘Caps have proven time and time again this season that they play their best when their back is against the wall. The question is now: Can they do it on the road?
Match will begin at 9pm ET and can be found on TSN in Canada and Fox Sports Kansas City in the Midwest.
Sporting Kansas City