Coming off an important home win last weekend, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-6L-8D) travel to the American Midwest for a return Major League Soccer meeting with Eastern Conference side Sporting Kansas City (3W-6L-5D) on Saturday night.
Tom Soehn's side head back out on the road in good spirits after ending an unwanted 14-match winless streak with last Satuirday's 1-0 victory over high-flying Philadelphia Union at Empire Field. The trip to Kansas City begins a three-match road trip for the Blue and White, which includes two big games versus Canadian arch-rivals Toronto FC next week. The 'Caps are also the third MLS club to visit Sporting KC's brand-new stadium in LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, which opened earlier this month.
Saturday's match between Whitecaps FC and Sporting Kansas City from LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, kicks off at 5:30 p.m. PT and is live on TSN and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to the June 25 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 3:30 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show.
Nothing raises the spirits in a team like a victory and that was evident to see in Soehn's squad when they resumed training this week. The 'Caps went nearly three months without a league win, despite coming close to taking maximum points on a number of occasions. While it has been a very challenging start to life in MLS for Vancouver, there is plenty of optimism that the Blue and White can complete the first half of their regular season with a second straight win and a first away victory as an MLS club on Saturday.
The win over Philadelphia Union impressed many in the league, as three players earned spots on the MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week for Week 14. Davide Chiumiento and Eric Hassli made the weekly select XI, as did goalscorer Alain Rochat, whose match-winning strike is a Week 14 candidate for the AT&T Goal of the Week. Of more importance, the energy and purpose of the 'Caps performance in last weekend's game was very timely, as they gear up for a crucial week-long road trip. After visiting Sporting Kansas City, Whitecaps FC take on Toronto FC in two big matches at BMO Field. This first contest comes in MLS next Wednesday night before the second meeting is the replayed second leg of this year's Nutrilite Canadian Championship final on Saturday, July 2.
Soehn's squad heads into this weekend in good shape on the injury front, as only MLS veterans Atiba Harris (knee) and John Thorrington (calf) remain sidelined for the 'Caps. Mouloud Akloul (hamstring) is listed as doubtful.
After a gruelling 10-match road spell that saw them register a 1W-6L-3D record to start the season, Sporting Kansas City were very happy to return home this month. The reason for the very challenging start to the club's 16th season was the completion of the league's new soccer-specific stadium in LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. Built at a cost of $200 million, LIVESTRONG Sporting Park has already hosted two MLS games and two matches in this year's CONCACAF Gold Cup. Sporting KC raised the curtain on their brand-new, state-of-the-art home with a 0-0 draw versus Chicago Fire on June 9 before registering their first goal and win at their new home, as they defeated San Jose Earthquakes on June 17. On Wednesday, Peter Vermes' side extended their unbeaten run in the league to six matches (2W-0L-4D) with a goalless draw in Philadelphia. This included clean sheets in Kansas City's last two matches for Danish goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
Vermes' squad includes some talented players like Mexican international Omar Bravo. The former Club Deportivo (Chivas) Guadalajara star recently returned to action from a sports hernia injury. Fellow striker Teal Bunbury is the son of former Canadian international goalscorer Alex Bunbury, while 2011 MLS SuperDraft pick C.J. Sapong put his name in the history books as the scorer of Sporting KC's first MLS goal at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. Midfielder Davy Arnaud and striker Kei Kamara are also key players for Kansas City, while midfielder Stephane Auvray (Guadeloupe) and defender Roger Espinoza (Honduras) played in this year's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Vermes will be without midfielder Craig Rocastle and striker Konrad Warzycha (both knee) for Saturday's home game with Vancouver. In-form midfielder Graham Zusi (ankle) is listed as probable. On Tuesday, Sporting KC announced that winger Ryan Smith will miss the rest of the season due to family reasons.
Whitecaps FC inaugural meeting with Sporting KC at Empire Field on April 2 became one of the most memorable matches in club history. The 'Caps hopes of a home result that day looked remote when two goals from Bunbury and a second-half strike from Kamara gave Sporting KC a seemingly commanding three-goal lead. However, Whitecaps FC earned a point in the final 17 minutes of the match, as a goal by Harris allowed Brazilian striker Camilo to claim an improbable 3-3 draw for Vancouver with two goals in time added on at the end of the game.
There are also some common ties between the 'Caps and Sporting KC. Whitecaps FC right fullback Jonathan Leathers played three seasons with Kansas City before being selected by the Blue and White in last November's MLS Expansion Draft. Sporting KC centre back Matt Besler was teammates with Jeb Brovsky and Bilal Duckett at the University of Notre Dame. Vermes' squad, meanwhile, includes two players with prior experience of playing Vancouver at the North American second division level. Goalkeeper Eric Kronberg spent the 2006 season on loan at former United Soccer Leagues First Division (USL-1) side Miami FC. He was in goal when Whitecaps FC defeated Miami FC 6-1 on aggregate in the playoffs that year. Last season, Sporting KC defender Scott Lorenz faced the 'Caps as a member of NSC Minnesota Stars in the USSF D-2 Pro League.
NEXT STOP: TORONTO
Following Saturday's match in Kansas City, Whitecaps FC make their way back to Southern Ontario to face Canadian arch-rivals Toronto FC in their return MLS meeting at BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario, next Wednesday night. Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. PT and is live on TSN and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to the June 29 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 2:30 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show.
Whitecaps FC fans also have the option of purchasing two exciting new match packs. Starting at just $159, the match pack options - GOING HOLLYWOOD and LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR? - both include the Manchester City FC friendly match, valued at $60, and four coveted MLS matches. Aside from season tickets, which also include the Manchester City game, match packs are currently the only way to secure a ticket to the July 18 international friendly. For additional information on match packs, visit whitecapsfc.com/matchpacks.