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Know the Enemy: Sporting Kansas City

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The Vancouver Whitecaps look to bounce back from an embarrassing defeat at the hands of LAFC last Saturday, and a disappointing 0-0 draw to Calgary on Wednesday, this Saturday when they host Sporting Kansas City. We get you prepared for this match with our scouting report in our Know the Enemy segment.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps return home from a four-game road trip to host Sporting Kansas City on Saturday (7:00 pm PST). We get you ready for the match with a rundown of Vancouver and Kansas City’s recent matches, both clubs recent form, and Marc Dos Santos potential strategy. Finally, we speak with Blue Testament’s Cody Bradley about Sporting Kansas City’s season thus far.

Head-to-Head

The Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City have a long history of exciting matches. In fact, I believe that watching Vancouver play Kansas City is one of the matches I look forward to the most as something interesting often occurs. The clubs have battled in Major League Soccer, with matches playing key roles in determining the top spots in the Western Conference. They have also fought in Champions League, where Alphonso Davies scored his first goal. Even when something important is not on the line, these two clubs seem to impress. Sadly, it is usually a breakdown by the Caps. Remember that big lead in Kansas City that Vancouver lost? How about that two red card match last season, leading to a 6-0 SKC victory? In fact, last season SKC outscored VWFC 10-1. Sounds like the Caps are playing LAFC again! Both clubs are struggling this season, so I expect another great matchup as both clubs will be looking for three points to try and turn things around.

Recent Form

Vancouver: The Whitecaps are in the midst of a busy schedule. They have already played six matches in the past three weeks, and will play the next two Wednesdays and Saturdays. This is bad news for Vancouver, who have not been playing well of late and seem unlikely to add any reinforcements soon, even though the transfer window is open.

It is hard to tell which the more embarrassing result over the past week was, the 6-1 drubbing by LAFC or the 0-0 draw, despite a strong lineup, to Canadian Premier League (CPL) club Cavalry FC. Both matches were away and it is unsurprising that Vancouver lost to LAFC, while Cavalry was the class of the CPL’s Spring League. Nevertheless, the Caps should be looking to make a statement in front of their fans, and honestly NEED to do so.

Kansas City: Like Vancouver, Sporting is having a bit of a struggle this season. After finishing first in the West last season, they have almost as many losses so far this season (7) as they did all of last year (8). They are in 10thright now, two points up on Vancouver.

Kansas City have only one win on the road this season, through nine matches, but have four draws. Combined with Vancouver’s seeming inability to win matches at home -they have 20 draws since 2016- this match appears headed for a draw. However, that result is not what either team needs right now.

Strategy

As noted, a draw is not enough for Marc Dos Santos in this match. Against a key Western Conference foe, who is just ahead of them in the standings, anything less than three points should be deemed a failure. MDS went with a fairly strong lineup against Cavalry on Wednesday, and must be cognizant of next Wednesday’s match in Boston against New England. However, with this being a home match and against a Western opponent, expect this match to be prioritized. Hwang In-Boem, Jon Erice, Joaquin Ardaiz, and Lucas Venuto were all rested Wednesday. With Fredy Montero suspended for this one, I would like to see Reyna partern with Ardaiz, to see what they can do. What about you?

Marc Dos Santos has been using 3-5-2 a lot recently, but seems to favor that for road matches only, and going with 4-3-3 at home. It will be interesting to see whether he keeps the pattern of home versus away formations or the recent formation of 3-5-2. I would like to see them try 3-5-2 with Cornelius, Henry, and Godoy in the back, flanked by Adanan and Nerwinski. In the middle, a trio of Hwang, Erice, Teibert, and someone (Venuto?) would be nice. That would leave Ardaiz and Reyna up top Maybe we see the 4-3-3 with Venuto, Ardaiz, and Reyna in the front three.

What do you expect to see from this match?

Three Questions with The Blue Testament

In preparation for this match, we spoke with The Blue Testament’s Cody Bradley about how Sporting Kansas City has done this season. You can find our answers to their questions here.

1. Sporting Kansas City find themselves in an unfamiliar spot, sitting 10th in the West. What has led to the poor season thus far?

As you mentioned, the fan base here is not familiar with this. So every single thing you could blame a bad run of form on, has been blamed by somebody. From “just injuries” all the way to “Fire Vermes”. The injuries have been truly insane. As bad as I’ve ever seen this team deal with. They lost key players up front, in the midfield, and in the defense as well. You may be able to put some blame on the intense schedule they had to open the season. The off season ended early to get them game fit for Concacaf Champions League and a crushing defeat in that competition put some hurt on them. HERE is a letter written by Matt Besler to fans about the struggle.

I believe it was a compilation. They were tired and emotionally defeated after the CCL loss. Went into a bad run of form and key players got hurt. Then they lost confidence and it snowballed. But players are starting to return and we’ve seen some signs of life.

2. SKC have three players with 7 goals accounting for nearly 75% of their goals. In addition, SKC has a goal differential of -5. Which has been more of a problem and why: relying too heavily on a couple of players offensively or being unable to keep the ball out of their net defensively?

This team will pride itself in being able to score from anywhere on the field. That is a point of pride. The problem has been on the other end. They have used an absurd 14 different combinations on the back line this season! The injuries have led to inconsistency everywhere. Peter Vermes runs this team like a machine. Everyone must know every single thing required of them, and if they switch off for even one play, everything falls apart. So a lack of consistency back there has been quite devastating.

Another thing that could be mentioned here is that Tim Melia was on another world the last couple years. This team won points it had no business winning because Melia would make a miraculous save to bail them out and secure the draw or the win. This year, he’s come down to planet earth and played like a human being. Not bad... just not the guy that bailed them out time and time again.

3. Both SKC and Vancouver fell victim to LAFC this past week, losing 5-1 and 6-1 respectively. Why do you feel SKC had problems with LAFC, especially given that it was a home match?

Just going to go ahead and state the obvious here: Los Angeles FC is really good and Sporting KC is bad.

It’s definitely not that simple and I don’t believe SKC is a bad team. But I think it goes along with the confidence thing I mentioned. That was a really, really rough game for so many fans in Kansas City. A low point not just for the season, but perhaps since the re-brand and move into this stadium. They played like a defeated team. Vermes and Co. pride themselves on giving the fans a treat at home and this match was just a total departure from what they stand for. I don’t think giving some technical explanation of LA’s game plan and why it worked against SKC is even all that relevant here. They simply lacked the confidence they needed to win, missed a penalty kick, and then were forced to really start chasing when it was 3-0. On the other side, LAFC were lethal in this one. The stat line shows they only had four “big chances” and they scored five goals. Seriously, watch the highlights. The first two goals were fantastic. A red hot team faced a beaten down team and it showed.

That is our thoughts on the upcoming match, but what are yours? Is this a ‘must win’? What formation should MDS go out with? Will we see Ardaiz and Reyna up top?