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Pre Match: Whitecaps Vs. SKC

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Sporting Kansas City William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps take on Sporting Kansas City this Sunday. Every point is vital at this stage as the ‘Caps are essentially in a 5 way race for the bottom 3 spaces. The Colorado Rapids did them a big favour last week by beating Minnesota United, so win against SKC would be huge for the ‘Caps playoff hopes.

Sporting Kansas City

On paper this is a very tough game for the Whitecaps. SKC have a +20 goal difference, sit second in the Western conference, and have already thrashed Vancouver once this season. But a closer look at the team’s recent form shows it is a bit more complicated than that.

SKC started the season very hot, and in terms of their record they have remained very hot. But since the start of August things have not been quite as rosy as they appear on the surface level. Over the past 13 games SKC has had a negative expected goal differential. This is likely down to injuries (and involvement in sordid gambling scandals) to key players. They are still out possessing and out shooting opponents but the quality of the shots they are conceding are incredibly high. Since hurting teams in transition moments is kind of the Whitecaps’ whole thing, SKC could be in for a tough night.

SKC have played a 4-3-3 almost every single game this season so it’s unlikely that they will deviate from that. They will be without DP striker Alan Pulido so the focus of their attack will the wingers Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi. Both of them are really good. Khirey Shelton will likely occupy the centre forward role but his main job will be to open up space for the two wingers.

In midfield Gadi Kinda plays as an advanced #8. He has burned Vancouver before and is consistently one of the best drivers of offence from that position in the league. MLS veteran Roger Espinoza plays a slightly more conservative role while former AC Milan man Jose Mauri sits in front of the back four. The back four has an average age of about 75, which might be why they get caught out and give up big chances so often. Graham Zusi, Andreu Fontas, Nicolas Isimat Mirini, and Luis Martins form a back four that is frequently bailed out by goalkeeper Tim Melia. Melia has consistently saved more goals than expected this season and it is a big reason that SKC’s record has remained strong even though their underlying play has slipped.

Vancouver Whitecaps

The Whitecaps are coming off a disappointing road loss to the Seattle Sounders. The Whitecaps had their chances in that game but they weren’t able to pair that with stout defending. The Whitecaps have gone from a team that just turtled up and hoped to limit the damage to a team that can sting opponents but get hit back just as hard. From late career Tyron Woodley to late career Nate Diaz. So, once again they are up against an opponent that they can absolutely do damage to in transition moments but who is also going to give their hastily slapped together defensive line a challenge they might not be up to.

Help may or may not be on the horizon with Erik Godoy and Ranko Veselinovic both a possibility to return but not a certainty.

The squad will get a bit of a boost with the return of Cristian Gutiérrez but he is unlikely to start right away and I don’t get the sense that the wingbacks were really where the defensive problems stemmed from.

Maxime Crepeau will likely return in goal and it’s very likely that his incredible run of form will need to continue if the ‘Caps are going to win this one.

The dynamics of this game are not hard to predict. SKC will take a lot of shots, the Whitecaps will counter with a smaller number but higher quality of shots and the team who’s rickety defence holds up better will win.

Injuries:

SKC:

  • OUT: Felipe Hernandez (wild story)
  • OUT: Jaylin Lindsey (hamstring)
  • OUT: Alan Pulido (knee)

Vancouver:

  • OUT: Caio Alexandre (left foot, fifth metatarsal fracture)
  • OUT: Pedro Vite (health & safety protocols)
  • DOUBTFUL: Andy Rose (left calf strain)
  • QUESTIONABLE: Ranko Veselinovic (right groin)
  • QUESTIONABLE: Lucas Cavallini (left knee irritation)
  • QUESTIONABLE: Erik Godoy (right foot)