#VANvsSKC-337 (1)

For the first time since 2017, Vancouver Whitecaps FC are back in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

An incredible 10W-2L-10D record over the last 22 regular season games vaulted the ‘Caps from bottom of the Western Conference to sixth place, the second-best run of form in the league going into the postseason.

The Blue and White will hope they can continue that form this Saturday, November 20, as they travel to Children’s Mercy Park to face Sporting Kansas City in the first round.

Ahead of the match, we break down SKC’s top performers throughout the regular season and their style of play.

OFFENSIVE THREATS

Throughout the season, Kansas City have proved to be one of the league’s best offensive teams thanks to their 56 goals, the highest total in the Western Conference.

A big part of their offensive output has come from the likes of Hungarian winger Dániel Sallói, Mexican striker Alan Pulido, and Scottish winger Johnny Russell.

Starting with Sallói, the Hungarian international had only scored a single MLS goal in the last two seasons after having a career-year in 2018 with 11 goals.

However, once the calendar flipped to 2021, Sallói hit the ground running to record a total of 16 goals and eight assists to eventually see himself nominated as one of the five finalists for this season’s Landon Donovan MVP award.

Sallói’s favourite zone to operate is going 1v1 against opposing fullbacks out wide and making runs in between the channels of opposing backlines, while also having a knack of arriving late inside the box.

Pulido, who missed the last six games of the regular season after undergoing knee surgery, has still been a force to be reckoned with despite his struggles with injuries this season.

The former Chivas de Guadalajara man tallied eight goals and three assists in 21 games this season, achieving the same amount of goal contributions he had back in 2020.

It’s still questionable whether Pulido will take to the field on Saturday, but if he does, expect him to be very mobile in the final third for SKC, oftentimes drifting out wide to create overloads to link up with Sallói and Russell.

As for Russell, the Scotsman has had his best MLS season to date with 15 goals and eight assists on the year.

The former Derby County forward loves to operate on the right wing to cut inside on his dangerous left foot and take opponents on with his nifty dribbling.

While Russell loves to have a go at goal himself, the Scot led SKC in expected assists with 5.36, using his left foot off set pieces to create chances and whipping balls into the middle of the box from open play for the likes of Sallói and Pulido to attack.

It’s safe to say the ‘Caps will have their hands full on Saturday if they are to advance to the next round of the 2021 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

SWITCHING PLAY

A big part of Sporting’s overall game plan throughout the year has been their commanding, quick possession style of play to disorganize opponents in the final third and find attractive angles of space for their attackers to operate in.

The most important aspect of their game plan, though, has been their quick long switches of play from one side of the pitch to the other.

Whether it be a lofted ball in the air from Honduran midfielder Roger Espinoza to Johnny Russell on the right wing or two quick passes along the deck to switch the play, it allows SKC to find the pockets of space they crave for.

In fact, it’s exactly how they scored their lone goal against the ‘Caps at BC Place back on October 17 (timestamp 3:16 on highlights package below).

As seen in the video above, Sporting complete two quick switches of play to open up more space in the final third for Johnny Russell to curl home a left footed strike past Maxime Crépeau.

It proved to be Sporting’s best chance of the game, so if the ‘Caps can keep the same defensive organization they had for most of that match and prevent these types of switches from SKC, they could have a pretty good chance at nabbing a result on Saturday.

OUTNUMBERED

Despite the fact SKC has been heavily successful with their wide range of movement in the final third, it’s also ironically been one of their main defensive frailties this season.

Once teams are able to commit numbers on the attack against the backline of Sporting and play past their midfield, it’s brought them plenty of problems.

The two goals the ‘Caps scored on October 17 are prime examples (timestamps 0:39 and 2:24 on highlights package above).

Taking a look at the first goal from Ryan Gauld, the ‘Caps are able to bypass Sporting’s midfield and cause chaos in the final third for their backline, outnumbering the defence six to four with SKC’s midfield left in the dust.

The ‘Caps then make darting runs into the box to get on the end of Javain Brown’s lovely cross, which Brian White is able to head down towards Gauld to volley the ball past SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia.

It’s a situation that leaves Sporting’s defence under dire pressure with the amount of movement from the ‘Caps in the final third.

The second goal from Russell Teibert also shows how quick the ‘Caps transition and get numbers forward after bypassing Sporting’s midfield.

This time, however, Sporting’s midfield does get back to cover the space in the box for the likes of Gauld and Cristian Dájome but don’t pay attention to the late runs from the ‘Caps into the final third.

White does incredibly well to hold the ball up to wait for support, then Teibert is able to take advantage of Sporting’s lapse in concentration and use the space in front of him to fire in his first goal at BC Place since 2013.

As you can see, both goals happen because the ‘Caps are able to commit numbers forward and get past Sporting’s midfield to put their defence under pressure in tight moments.

Make sure you don’t miss the ‘Caps first playoff match since 2017 this Saturday, November 20 against Sporting KC from Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas at 2 p.m. PT. You can catch the match live on TSN1 and AM730, with the radio pre-game show starting at 1 p.m. PT.