Two lousy teams and, so far, one terrific game.
Major League Soccer's best game so far this season was between its two worst teams. Go figure.
Seriously, if you didn't love the last time the Vancouver Whitecaps played Sporting Kansas City, you have no feel for drama or sports. Two mediocre teams played the game at a reasonably high level: sloppy (but then, this is MLS) and yet exciting with offense on display all around. The finish, of course, was the best part, when Camilo Sanvezzo buried two unreal stoppage time goals and then Nizar Khalfan came within six inches of winning it. The entire game, though, wasn't at a terrific standard but it was constantly exhilarating.
When people talk about Major League Soccer parity, they usually mean that any team can beat any other. That's true, of course, as we Whitecaps fans know from our stirring triumph over the Philadelphia Union. Perhaps what they should mean is that any two teams can put on a hell of a show, no matter how hapless they look. Kansas City is in the basement of the East, Vancouver in the basement of the West. As they play the return engagement it seems like a recipe for a dull game.
You can hear fans or pundits write this game off as one to be ignored. Many American fans are ignoring it all together in favour of the Gold Cup. TSN probably isn't thrilled they're spending main network time on a game they might have thought would be a marquee date but is turning out to be two cellar-dwellers wrangling for a very limited sort of supremacy.
We Whitecaps fans know better. Besides, both these teams are on a bit of a hot streak and the Sportings are undefeated in their last six. Anybody who's thinking they'll watch something else and catch the highlights on Sunday should think twice. We might be in for a real show.
This isn't just superstition talking. Sporting Kansas City and the Vancouver Whitecaps make for an exciting matchup. They're not strong teams but they both have active midfields and energetic players who love to play daring balls and move into space. Kei Kamara is worth watching no matter what uniform he wears; the 26-year-old is Kansas City's co-leading scorer and adds bags of athleticism and playmaking talent. His matchup against Terry Dunfield or Gershon Koffie will be part track meet and part chess match and the winner might well win the game. Teal Bunbury is a forward many Canadians love to hate but he's also, if I'm honest, an electrifying player who struggles for consistency and is mentally some steps behind but can also paralyze a defense.
So, what do the Whitecaps have against this? A couple exciting (if not always effective) wide players in Camilo Sanvezzo and Shea Salinas plus whatever magic Eric Hassli comes up with. Kansas City's defense is a bit erratic and Vancouver's midfield can give up the ball far too easily, leading to the possibility of a thrilling counter-punching match like we saw earlier this season.
It won't be a great game for fans of fundamental soccer. Both these teas are prone to embarrassing mistakes, weak turnovers, and sloppy play. If I was a youth coach I might keep my players away from the television during this one; "hey, kids, let's watch the UEFA U-21s instead!" sort of thing. You certainly won't learn any lessons except perhaps what not to do.
That doesn't always matter, though. Soccer can be an exciting game even when it's played sort of badly: it is almost unique among the major sports in this respect. For every defender out of position or misplayed ball in central midfield there'll be a lovely run up the wing or fantastic passing action between midfield and forwards. Mistakes but also brilliance. Neither of these teams are going to bunker and try to avoid letting a chance through. If you think you might skip this most inglorious of all MLS fixtures, you are making a mistake.