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Match Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps @ Sporting Kansas City

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The Whitecaps are on the cusp of the MLS Playoffs, but Saturday’s away match to Kansas City will undoubtedly shape the final standings in the west

MLS: Sporting KC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a mid-week loss to rival Seattle, the Vancouver Whitecaps (14-10-6) only get a few days’ rest before heading to Children’s Mercy Park to square off against another top club in Sporting Kansas City (12-6-11).

Match Information

Where: Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, KS

When: Saturday, September 30th at 6 pm PST

How: TSN2 (TV); TSN 1040 (Radio); MLS Live (Internet)

Saturday’s match will be the second and final time Vancouver and Kansas City will meet this year, with the Whitecaps having won the first match 2-0 on goals from Tim Parker and an absolute cracker from Cristian Techera.

Overall, Sporting holds the all-time advantage with six wins and a draw out of eleven matches. Five of those wins have come at home, as Vancouver has a record of 0-5-1 when playing away to SKC. However, the ‘Caps did notch an away win at Sporting in their group-clinching match during the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League.

Regardless, that MLS record when playing away to SKC is daunting. What’s the positive spin we can take from it? The Whitecaps overcame an away 0-for-Life record against another club earlier this season, so why can’t the club do it again?

Who’s Available?

Nothing has changed with regards to the Whitecaps’ wounded, as David Edgar and Matias Laba continue to be the only names to report. For SKC, Soni Mustivar, who started against Vancouver on May 20th, is recovering from a hamstring strain, though it’s arguable whether he would have seen the pitch anyway, as he’s only appeared in two matches since late June. Cameron Porter, who also appeared in the previous match against the ‘Caps, is out for the season after suffering a broken fibula in early August.

As for suspensions, Sporting is free and clear, while the Whitecaps will most likely be without Tony Tchani. I say “most likely” because, as of this writing, he’s not presently included on this week’s MLS Discipline Summary for the yellow card-turned-red earned midweek against the Sounders. I doubt the Whitecaps will appeal this one, meaning the defensive midfielder will be out for the weekend.

Who’s Worth Watching?

Without question, the SKC backline is quality, but there’s a reason the team has conceded the fewest goal in the league in 2017, and it’s Tim Melia, arguably the best goalkeeper in the MLS this season. The 2015 Comeback Player of the Year (coming back from being stuck at Chivas USA, I suppose) has allowed only 23 goals while making 87 saves and completing 10 shutouts. No other goalie in the league has a stat line of that quality, and Melia has done so after starting in every SKC match this season. Oh, and he’s also stopped three of five penalty kicks this year. The dude is a wall.

By comparison, David Ousted has had a reasonable season, with 36 goals allowed while making 83 saves and 6 shutouts in 27 appearances. Nothing that can be clearly defined as neither immaculate nor abhorrent. However, he is coming off a match where he conceded three goals; not that any of the tallies were his fault, but I’m sure Ousted is steamed with the notion that those goals happened in the first place. As much as anyone else, Ousted is going to need to forget about the team’s performance on Wednesday before the Whitecaps can prove they belong at the top of the table.

Who’s Going to Win?

After such a strong showing (results-wise) since mid August, the Whitecaps sure laid an egg on Wednesday against Seattle. Sustaining that run of form to the season’s end would have been nearly impossible, so a loss was certainly to be expected sooner or later.

But after such a lacking performance the question to be asked is, “How does the team bounce back?” Identify what went wrong and improve upon it, right?

Ideally, a club could return home and take out its frustrations against a lesser opponent. The Whitecaps instead get the exact opposite in playing away to The Blue Hell and Sporting Kansas City, a team who has not lost at home this season, let alone ever truly looked threatened (except for maybe their July 1st draw with Portland). Unless they score early and force their opponents to chase the match, SKC will dominate the possession game by rarely forcing a bad pass.

So what can the Whitecaps do? Despite the high possession rate, SKC are one of the lower goal scoring teams in the league. They do carry a high differential, but I think that speaks to the quality of their defense and goalie more than anything. A low-scoring, possession offense is one that plays well into the Whitecaps’ approach as of late: sustain & wait for the right opportunity to play for pace. The formation may have changed since their last match, but that’s what worked against Sporting on May 20th.

Nevertheless, having a style and formation that’s diametrically opposed to that of your opponent is clearly no guarantee for a result. The Whitecaps are going to have to quickly forget about that game on Wednesday and, if they’re able to psychologically get past that clunker while keeping SKC from tallying early, I say they’ll be able to gut out a 1-1 draw.

...especially if Baldomero Toledo is willing to give out another PK like this one:

Potential Lineups:

Vancouver - Ousted; Nerwinski, Waston, Parker, de Jong; Jacobson, Ghazal; Techera, Reyna, Shea; Montero.

Sporting KC - Melia; Zusi, Opara, Besler, Sinovic; Feilhaber, Sanchez, Espinoza; Fernandes, Rubio, Blessing.

Officials:

Referee: Baldomero Toledo; AR1: Adam Garner; AR2: Kevin Klinger; 4th: Younes Marrakchi; VAR: Edvin Jurisevic.