After registering only one win in their first ten MLS matches against Sporting Kansas City, the Vancouver Whitecaps have emerged victorious from their last two clashes with their Western Conference foe. This included an impressive 1-0 victory at Children’s Mercy Park last October, registering SKC’s first (and only) home loss of 2017. Sporting Kansas City bring a new unbeaten streak into the match this Friday, undefeated in their last six league matches and topping the Western Conference with 14 points.
Where: Children’s Mercy Park - Kansas City
When: Friday, April 20th at 6:00pm PST
How: TSN2, ESPN+
While neither team has a player lost due to suspension, both teams are facing possibly match-altering absences due to injuries in the goal-scoring department. For Sporting Kansas City, it looks as though Felipe Gutierrez (Hip) could miss his third straight match. The Chilean midfielder (and March MLS player of the month) has a league-leading 5 goals in only 5 games played this season, so it’s evident that his absence significantly weakens the potency of the SKC attack.
Manager Peter Vermes says Felipe Gutierrez has "progressed a lot." He did a "little training" yesterday, will do more today, and will be "built up" over the week. My personal guess is that he will not feature Friday. @BlueTestamentKC @SportingKC— SpKCLife.com (@SpKCLife) April 17, 2018
For the Whitecaps, the injury list is of similar importance. The ‘Caps will have to re-think the forward position in the absence of Kei Kamara (adductor strain).
Robbo said today that May 11 is being targeted for Kei Kamara's return. Will likely miss the next three games with an adductor strain. #VWFC— Farhan Devji (@farhandevji) April 16, 2018
The Whitecaps will also be without Jordon Mutch (left hamstring strain), although Sean Franklin (quad strain) has been listed as probable and may be available off the bench if need be.
Who’s Worth Watching?
While Sporting Kansas City have filled the net so far this season with 14 goals in 7 matches, only one of those goals has been provided from the striker position. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft Khiry Shelton has struggled to bury his chances so far through six matches, but has tallied two assists. The combination of quality team play and creativity from fullbacks Graham Zusi and Jimmy Medranda, along with the Whitecaps’ fragile CB options (be it Aaron Maund or Jose Aja), could present a golden opportunity for the SKC striker to open his 2018 goal-scoring account.
If the Whitecaps are to have any measure of success this Friday, it will most likely come from reigniting the pre-season chemistry found by the South American duo of Anthony Blondell and Yordy Reyna. This chemistry was best displayed in a 4-4 outing against LAFC in which Reyna and Blondell combined on 3 of the 4 goals:
While Kamara’s prolonged absence is by no means ideal, what the injury should do (hopefully) is force skipper Carl Robinson to alter his tactics. Blondell is a different type of forward than Kamara, preferring the ball at his feet and possessing the ability to strike from distance. This should get the Whitecaps creative midfielders more involved in the attack, something which has been absent in recent matches.
Additionally, the possibility of a fully healthy Ali Ghazal returning to the starting XI is a sight for sore eyes. Especially for those like myself who have not been overly impressed with Erfan Juarez’s performances as of late.
Who’s Going to Win?
This is a tough one.
While part of me thinks this is another opportunity for the ‘Caps to defy all statistical analysis and logic on the road, a different part of me thinks that the lustre has worn off Carl Robinson’s bunker and counter philosophy. In my view, the next few weeks present a monumental opportunity for the Whitecaps to forge themselves a new attacking identity and maintain their position near the top of the Western Conference.
These next few matches will be crucial in determining what kind of contributions we are going to see from the likes of Anthony Blondell, Christian Techera, Felipe & Yordy Reyna as the season goes on. Overall, I’m optimistic these players will find their form, but don’t expect it to all come together immediately.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City (1-0) Vancouver Whitecaps
VAN: (4-3-3, right to left) GK: Stefan Marinovic — Jakob Nerwinski, Kendall Waston, Jose Aja, Marcel de Jong — Ali Ghazal, Felipe, Yordy Reyna — Alphonso Davies, Anthony Blondell, Cristian Techera
SKC: (4-3-3, right to left) GK: Tim Melia — Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Jimmy Medranda — Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Yohan Croizet — Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton, Daniel Salloi
Referee: Kevin Stott, Assistant Referees: Logan Brown, Cameron Blanchard, 4th Official: Nima Saghafi, VAR: Edvin Jurisevic