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Game Preview: Caps hope to turn the tide of road luck at Sporting Kansas City

game info

What: Sporting Kansas City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

When: May 28, 6pm PT/9pm ET

Where: Children’s Mercy Park

Instructions: TSN (Canada), ESPN+ (USA)

What you should know

In case you missed the OneSoccer graphic during the midweek game, the Caps are winless away from home apart from their midweek triumph over Cavalry FC. They are very hopeful that form will change in Kansas on Saturday night as they take on a disappointing Sporting KC team in a game where they will surely need a result to keep their momentum going.

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

Pedro Vite will return from COVID-19 and Caio Alexandre will finally be available for selection. That is the good news.

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

Russell Teibert was also eliminated against Cavalry after suffering an eye injury.

If we discount Sunday’s unfortunate game, the Caps are unbeaten in five games in all competitions and of course have the upper hand when it comes to beating SKC in the second leg at BC Place last month.

This relatively low-energy game didn’t tell us much about either team, although it was a rare instance when the defense really held the opposition and conceded the fewest expected goals of any game to date.

Since then, Sporting has been virtually stationary. The low point was an easy 2-7 in Portland two weeks ago, the worst loss of the Peter Verme era and a real turning point for a potential change of tactics for a team that rarely faces existential crises (perhaps Vancouver can offer any clues?).

They’ve continued things with three straight results, including a 2-1 comeback win over Houston in the US Open Cup on Wednesday. The catalysts remain Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell, who have scored eight of the 13 goals SKC have scored this year (they only have five goalscorers overall; the Caps have eight by comparison).

In fact, KC is among the worst teams in the league in terms of shots per game, chances created and goals per game. This comes after a season in which they were one of the most successful teams in the league.

The root cause seems difficult to pin down but the brutal injury fortunes of Alan Pulido and Gabi Kinda and the departure of Gianluca Busio to Venezia mean they lack the staff to play the passing, possession and pressing system favored by Vermes. Midfielders playing out of position also seem to play a role. They rely on the individual brilliance of Russell or Salloi.

Admittedly, the Caps are still vulnerable to this type of model, especially when SKC tries to overload one side or the other. This particular strategy has given Vancouver seizures this season. But their best bet is forcing SKC to praise a couple of relatively safe crosses and really forcing them to put on a killer run through the back three. If Ranko Veselinovic can repeat his performance in the second leg, they can repeat their defensive performance in this game.

A lot depends on how fit the Caps are and how tired they are from a more work-intensive cup game than many of us probably expected, players included. Vanni Sartini seemed to have made a conscious decision to save some players for the weekend (Cristian Dajome wasn’t in the starting XI, for example) and the return of Vite and Alexandre will give a boost.

Hopefully this can help the Caps undo their usual struggles at Sporting Park, where they have not won since the Carl Robinson administration. Given Sporting’s struggles this year, a result is really important to keep the Caps’ path open as they head back to the playoffs.

predictions

Andreas: 2-1 SKC

Jan: 2-1 SKC

Caleb: 2-1 SKC

Luis: 3-0 SKC

Sat: 2-0 SKC

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