Sporting Kansas vs Vancouver Whitecaps – Saturday, September 23, 6:00 pm Pacific/9:00 pm Eastern, Children’s Mercy Park – Kansas City.
The playoff race in the Western Conference of Major League Soccer continues. After a 2-1 victory at home over the Colorado Rapids and a tough 3-0 defeat on the road to rivals, Seattle Sounders Vancouver travel to Kansas City to face Sporting. The game features first placed Vancouver Whitecaps against third-placed Sporting Kansas City if you go by point totals. The Whitecaps have, however, played one game more and with a point average of 1.6 are just behind Sporting, who have a point average of 1.62.
Either way, the game will feature two of the best teams in the Western Conference this season. It will be indeed an intriguing affair. The Whitecaps have shot up the standings in recent weeks benefiting primarily from an extensive stay at home. Home games especially are critical in the Western Conference. Despite having a losing record on the road, the Whitecaps record of W5 D2 L7 is the best of any team in the Western Conference.
The record confirmed the observation of new Colorado Rapids’ attacking midfielder Stefan Aigner, who has recently told the Futbolgrad Network that he feels that teams not always travel well in the league. Indeed there seems to be a big discrepancy between home performances and away performances in the Western Conference. Some of this can be put down to travel. Western Conference teams travel great distances, which means that, unlike in Europe, the home advantage still means something in North America—especially when one factors in elevation and climate differences.
This spells bad news for the Whitecaps. Even heading down just across the border to Seattle on Wednesday seemed to overawe many of the Whitecaps players. Now heading down into America’s Midwest the Whitecaps have to show that they can not only sustain their best away record in the West, but actually build on it in order to successfully challenge for one of the two top spots in the Western Conference, which would send the team straight to the semi-finals of the Western Conference MLS Cup playoffs.
Following the game in Kansas City Vancouver have three more games, and two of those will be on the road—against NY Red Bulls and Portland Timbers. Kansas City Sporting in the meantime will have four games left, and like Vancouver, they will only have one home game, against Houston Dynamo on matchday 33, on their road to the playoffs. The three away games, however, include trips to Minnesota, Houston and Real Salt Lake City. Of those final three only Houston has playoff aspirations.
Making the playoffs for Sporting Kansas City will be key. Cody Bradley, a writer for the Blue Testament and Stars & Stripes FC, explains: “This club promises trophies. And the fans demand them. We got one already this year, but most fans will tell you the expectation was to advance in the playoffs. Although they have made the playoffs for six straight seasons, the last three have been incredibly frustrating losses in the wildcard round. The last two were especially brutal, but we don’t like talking about them anymore. The club and [head coach] Peter Vermes talk a lot about securing a home match in the playoffs. And most people feel like if that is accomplished, then these guys can do anything in the playoffs. This league is insane, so it is hard to put the expectation of placing first or second in the West, but mine was at least to advanced past the knockout round. That gives our guys the chance to play in front of the Cauldron and do some damage. “
With all this in mind and with the playoffs in sight, Sporting Kansas City vs Vancouver Whitecaps should be a tightly fought affair. Given Sporting’s home record and Vancouver’s ability to get points on the road, it looks like the likely outcome will be a high-scoring draw.
Sporting Kansas vs Vancouver Whitecaps – Players to look out for:
Diego Rubio #11 – Sporting Kansas City
Centre forward Diego Rubio is Sporting Kansas City’s key player in the match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The 24-year-old Chilean striker with a German passport was signed on loan by Sporting Kansas City from Real Valladolid last September. Since then Sporting have made a move permanent. Bradley explains “he has been given the opportunity to step into Dom Dwyer’s position [he was traded to Orlando City] and be the front man for this team. The defence and midfield are solid; the question has been putting goals away this year. He has already scored the same number of goals as Dwyer (in like half the time), so if Rubio can continue that, then this team will be set up very nicely.
Stefan Marinović #24 – Vancouver Whitecaps
In a surprise move, the Vancouver Whitecaps went out this summer and signed a new keeper. Coming over from newly promoted Liga 3 side SpVgg Unterhaching Marinović was part of New Zealand’s side at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. The move was a surprise because Vancouver already had a strong number one in David Ousted. Head coach Carl Robinson, however, wanted not only a backup but a keeper, who could push Ousted. Although Marinović played in Germany’s fourth division last season, he was identified as the man for the job. Since coming in Robinson has rotated the goalkeeping position on occasion and with the Whitecaps on the road, Marinović will get the start on Saturday.
Sporting Kansas vs Vancouver Whitecaps – Match Stats
- Sporting Kansas City are first in the league in passing accuracy (83.4%) and number two in possession (57.1%).
- Vancouver are last in passing accuracy (74.1%) and possession (42%).
- Vancouver’s top scorer Fredy Montero (13 goals) is just one goal away from breaking his single-season goalscoring record.
- Vancouver have the best road record of any Western Conference team: W5 D2 L7.
- Sporting Kansas City are the only team undefeated at home: W10 L0 D5.
- Sporting Kansas City have the second best record at home with 35 points second only to Toronto FC, who have collected 36 points.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Sporting Kansas vs Vancouver Whitecaps 2-2
Sporting Kansas vs Vancouver Whitecaps – Possible Lineups
Sporting Kansas City
Melia – Sinović, Besler, Opara, Zusi – Espinoza, Ilie, Feilhaber – Salloi, Rubio, Blessing
Coach: Peter Vermes
Marinović – de Jong, Parker, Waston, Nerwinski – Ghazal, Reyna, Jacobson – Davies, Montero, Techera
Coach: Carl Robinson
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.