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Match Preview: Caps hope to change road luck at Sporting Kansas City

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

Match Info

What: Sporting Kansas City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

When: May 28, 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET

Where: Children’s Mercy Park

How to Watch: TSN (Canada), ESPN+ (U.S.)

What to Know

The Caps, in case you missed the OneSoccer graphics during the midweek match, are winless on the road — except for their midweek triumph over Cavalry FC. They sure are hoping that form will change Saturday night in Kansas, as they line up against a disappointing Sporting KC team in a match that they surely need a result in to maintain their momentum.

The good news for the Caps is their COVID-19 woes should be on the wane. Several players previously in health and safety protocols returned to the squad for the Voyageurs Cup win Wednesday, most notably de facto starting keeper Cody Cropper.

Pedro Vite will return from COVID-19 and Caio Alexandre will at long last be available for selection. That’s the good news.

The bad? Brian White is doubtful, an inconvenience because Lucas Cavallini went 90 minutes in the midweek and some rotation to start would be really nice. Ryan Gauld also is a doubt after picking up a hamstring injury in the midweek, explaining his early substitution.

Russell Teibert is also confirmed out after an eye injury sustained against Cavalry.

If we remove Sunday’s ill-fated match from consideration, the Caps are unbeaten in five matches in all competition and they of course have the upper hand of beating SKC in the reverse fixture at BC Place last month.

That relatively low energy match didn’t tell us a ton about either team, though it was a rare instance where the defense really locked the opposition down and conceded the fewest expected goals of any match to date.

Sporting has basically been treading water since then. The nadir was easily a 7-2 shredding at Portland two weeks ago, the worst defeat of the Peter Vermes era and a real tipping point for a potential change in tactics for a team that rarely is faced with existential crises (maybe Vancouver can offer some pointers?).

They’ve followed things up with three straight results, including a 2-1 comeback win over Houston in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. The catalyst has and will continue to be Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell, who have scored eight of the 13 goals that SKC has tallied this year (they have only five goalscorers total; the Caps, by comparison, have eight).

Indeed, KC rank among the lowest teams in the league for shots-per-match, big chances created and goals-per-match. This comes after a season where they were one of the most prolific teams in the league.

The root cause seems tough to pinpoint exactly but brutal injury luck for Alan Pulido and Gabi Kinda, as well as the departure of Gianluca Busio for Venezia, mean they lack the personnel to play the passing, possession and pressing-heavy system that Vermes favors. Midfielders playing out-of-position seem to play a role as well. This leaves them relying on the individual brilliance of Russell or Salloi.

Granted, the Caps are still susceptible to this type of model, particularly if SKC tries to overload one side or the other. This particular strategy has given Vancouver fits this season. But their best bet is to force SKC to try and lob in a bunch of relatively safe crosses and really force them to make a killer run through the back three. If Ranko Veselinovic can mirror his performance in the return fixture, they can replicate their defensive performance in that match.

A lot depends on how fit the Caps are, and how tired they are from a more labor-intensive cup match than many of us were probably looking for, including the players. Vanni Sartini seemed to make a conscious decision to save a few players for the weekend (Cristian Dajome did not start, for instance) and the return of Vite and Alexandre will be a boost.

Hopefully this can help the Caps undo their usual struggles at Sporting Park, where they haven’t won since the Carl Robinson Administration. Given how Sporting have struggled this year, a result is really vital to keeping the Caps’ pathway to crawl back into playoff contention open.

Predictions

Andrew: 2-1 SKC

Ian: 2-1 SKC

Caleb: 2-1 SKC

Luis: 3-0 SKC

Sam: 2-0 SKC