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Match Preview: Whitecaps at Sporting Kansas City

MLS: Sporting Kansas City vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Match Information

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

When: Sunday, 2 p.m. EST/ 11 a.m. PST

How to watch: TV: TSN2; Stream: ESPN +; Radio: AM730

Overview

This is the Caps’ third game in a week and, on a surface level, it is the one in which they are least likely to get points. Sporting KC have been rocky to start the season but still have plenty of firepower and are always a difficult out at home. The Caps’ depth will be tested, with tired legs in the attacking band and fitness concerns for Caio Alexandre, Bruno Gaspar and Erik Godoy.

What to expect from Vancouver

The Caps are coming off an encouraging performance on Wednesday, albeit with a few significant caveats. One, they didn’t get a result against Minnesota United. And, well, the team seems intent on finding every way possible not to score from open play. So, despite some aesthetically pleasing football and more positive displays from Deibar Caicedo, Bruno Gaspar and Janio Bikel, Wednesday didn’t really answer any questions.

The aforementioned injuries for Vancouver will likely mean a return to the lineup for Michael Baldisimo — which is not necessarily a bad thing. The Caps’ ball retention and progression was much improved on Wednesday, in large part to due to the improved play and passing of Caio Alexandre, who looked exactly the player the team was expecting him to be. Baldisimo, as we all know, has the skillset to mirror some of the ambitious long balls that Alexandre dusted off against Minnesota and will be raring to go after weeks of recovering from injury.

The other lineup change will be the likely return of Derek Cornelius, after 45 minutes of substitute duty in the midweek. This will prompt a pretty divisive reaction from fans (not that the Caps have much choice at this point, given Andy Rose’s injury), with Cornelius part of the mystifying defensive lapse that led to Roman Abila’s game winner on Wednesday. I thought DC was actually pretty good the rest of the way but there is no doubt that Sporting KC have the finishing quality to punish similar defensive lapses. Sporting is a generally decent team in the air and having a more physical presence could be an asset for the Caps.

It seems unlikely there will be changes to the attacking band, which is bad news for Lucas Cavallini’s oxygen levels but good news for a group of players who are still trying to gell — an area where we saw considerable progress on Wednesday. The key will be maintaining a pretty effective press after a week in which they’ve had to run a lot. Russell Teibert will also be looking to build on a solid performance in the midweek, with an especially strong link with Cavallini.

And, finally, Marc Dos Santos will need to manage the game differently than he did on Wednesday. The high energy play style which has seen the Caps run more than any other MLS side will likely not be as effective Sunday. And he can’t sit back and lit the opposition change the game with their substitutes, as Minnesota United did with Abila. Better in-game management has always been a must for the Caps and that is certainly true for Sunday.

What to expect from Sporting Kansas City

Sporting KC have been a weird team this year. Their stats don’t look too bad — plenty of shots, decent on expected goals and conceding relatively few chances. But Alan Pulido, the star striker, has not been able to get going this season and the team has been plagued by injuries and struggles in breaking in some new centerbacks.

When Sporting KC attacks, they often favor the left side, where in-form youngster Gianluca Busio often finds himself (at least until he secures a move to a European side). Johnny Russell put in a man-of-the-match performance in the team’s come from behind win against Austin last weekend but is questionable to return to the lineup due to injury.

Tim Melia, one of the top goalkeepers in the league, is also still on the mend, meaning the team will likely turn to the inexperienced John Pulskamp to fill in — something which has led to some frustrating defensive performances, notably the team’s 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake a couple weeks back.

Sporting KC have had most of their success coming from behind. The only time they scored first this season was in a 1-1 draw with Orlando City and one of their wins (the aforementioned Austin FC match) required two goals in the final 8 minutes to secure all three points. On one hand, this is a team that never says die; on the other, the Caps will appear to have a chance to grab a goal early and take control of the match.

Who is going to win?

I predicted a 2-0 SKC win, although there is no result in this one that would genuinely surprise me. Sporting looked pretty dire on Wednesday against Houston and for much of the Austin match and given their significant injury list, the Caps could have a real chance to steal something. But MDS’ teams have not played well against Kansas City and I have a hard time predicting too much from this side until I see some goals from open play.

Staff Picks

Sam: 2-0 SKC

Caleb: 2-1 SKC

Andrew: 2-0 SKC

Luis: 1-0 Vancouver

Ian: 1-0 SKC