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Pre-Match: Whitecaps vs. Sporting Kansas City, Playoff Edition

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

How to Watch

Who: Vancouver Whitecaps at Sporting Kansas City

Where: Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kan.

When: 4 p.m. EST/2 p.m. PST

TV: TSN1/TUDN

Radio: Am 730

Sporting Kansas City

If there is a silver lining to the Caps’ matchup with the number three seed in the west, it is that SKC has not been in good form to close out the year, losing three matches in a row (although the regular season finale, a 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake, is heavily disputed). It is an abrupt turn of events after a 2-1 win over Seattle Sounders, which seemed to position Sporting for a run at the number one seed and the first round bye which comes with it.

There are some baked in advantages for SKC here. They have only three losses at home all season, one of which being the aforementioned Decision Day loss to RSL. Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell and Gadi Kinda have all been training this week despite knocks (Ilie Sanchez and Graham Zusi are also questionable). Outside of Daniel Salloi, those are SKC’s three most important players and their presence will make or break whatever the ultimate result is. And SKC have one of the best big match keepers in Tim Melia, a goalie who also doubles as being excellent in penalty shootouts (if that comes to pass).

Salloi is an MVP finalist, with good reason — he paces Sporting with 16 goals. He works well in Peter Vermes’, high possession, high energy system and the Caps know full well the brunt of this, losing 3-0 at Children’s Mercy Park earlier this year.

This isn’t a perfectly polished team — the absence of Ilie has meant new arrival Jose Mauri and Remi Walter have gotten a lot of minutes in recent matches, not always to good effect. And with a high press favored by Vermes, the Caps could find holes if they are able to break free and use the pace of Cristian Dajome to bust into the final third. But despite the poor form of late, this remains a deeply dangerous Sporting KC side.

Vancouver Whitecaps

The good news? This is obviously not your father’s (or Marc Dos Santos’) Whitecaps.

Form counts for a lot in the MLS Cup playoffs and there is no one in the league who is on a hotter streak — and has less to lose — than Vancouver. Vanni Sartini’s confidence in the wake of Decision Day speaks volumes: this is a team who no longer fears anyone.

There are going to be relatively few major lineup decisions for Sartini, who has seemingly settled on his first team lineup and, with the benefit of the international break, no injury concerns to grapple with.

The few live issues will likely boil down to who is in the back three (presumably Ranko Veselinovic, Erik Godoy and Florian Jungwirth) and who plays at wingback. The second question is perhaps more interesting, given that Javain Brown is coming off international duty with Jamaica and Sartini has frequently gravitated towards Bruno Gaspar.

The Caps’ excellent recent form obscures the fact that the last time they outscored their opponent in expected goals was the comeback victory over Portland on Oct. 20, despite a clunker of a first half.

On one hand, this is a sign the Caps know how to get and see out a result (something that has been at issue in the past). But despite Sartini’s preferred attacking posture, it does underscore the fact that making things happen in the final third has not been totally solved with the arrival of Ryan Gauld and the renaissance of Brian White.

Still, compared with the last match at Children’s Mercy Park, this is a team which will not be afraid to press, one which is more much assured in the center of the park and one which has the capacity to create things going forward.

I’m not predicting a win on Saturday (which often means they perform better) but the Caps won’t be sneaking up on anyone anymore — they will be considered a good bet to win Saturday. One has to think that Vanni Sartini’s updated assessment of a 51-49 match is pretty accurate.

Injuries

SKC

Out

  • Felipe Hernandez (suspension)
  • Jaylin Lindsey (hamstring)

Questionable

  • Gadi Kinda (hamstring)
  • Johnny Russell (lower body)
  • Graham Zusi (lower body)
  • Ilie Sanchez (lower body)
  • Khiry Shelton (lower body)
  • Alan Pulido (knee)

Vancouver

Out

  • Caio Alexandre (foot)
  • Tosaint Ricketts (calf)

Predictions

Caleb: 2-1 SKC

Luis: 2-0 SKC

Ian: 2-1 Van

Andrew: 1-1 (SKC wins on penalties)

Sam: 1-0 Van