The last time Vancouver Whitecaps FC met Sporting Kansas City, they played to an enthralling 3-3 draw at Empire Field. Now the ‘Caps will be travelling to the American Midwest to play in their new stadium (5:30 p.m. PT, live on Rogers Sportsnet, listen live on TEAM 1410 Radio and teamradio.ca), LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, which opened earlier this month.
Sporting KC’s first six games produced a strong offensive effort, scoring 11 goals. The only problem was that they also conceded 12 goals in the same period. Lately, however, Sporting KC have reinvented themselves. They are unbeaten in six matches, with six goals scored and only two goals against. They are now winning games by focusing on defence first and grinding out results.
The ’Caps will face a Kansas City side that will line up in a 4-5-1 formation and can adapt to a 4-3-3. The formation will be dictated on how high and aggressive the wingers play, or how close one of the midfielders play to the lone striker. In Sporting KC’s recent game versus the Union in Philadelphia, they played striker Teal Bunbury as the lone striker, with three midfielders clogging up the middle and Omar Bravo and Kei Kamara playing deep on the wings to make a five-man midfield.
There were a number of reasons Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes went into this game more on the defensive side, as this was their fifth game in 16 days. When they meet our Whitecaps FC this weekend, it will be their third game in a week.
I anticipate a more aggressive approach on Saturday, with this game being at home in front of another sell-out crowd at the team’s new stadium. They have a number of options to freshen up the team for this match. C.J. Sapong scored the winning goal against San Jose Earthquakes in their last home game, and he could replace Bunbury as the lone striker. This gives them a different look, as Bunbury has a better touch and is more of a goalscorer, where Sapong gives them more of a physical threat (some of his teammates call him a "handful" and "man-child").
In midfield, Sporting KC could have the option to bring Graham Zusi on the right wing, if he recovers from an ankle injury. Zusi has two goals and two assists in his last two games and could cause lots of problems for Whitecaps FC on the wings, with Designated Player Bravo on the other side. The other option is to push one of the midfielders – likely captain Davy Arnaud – closer to the lone striker, similar to how Davide Chiumiento plays for the ‘Caps.
The biggest challenge for our Whitecaps FC this weekend could be breaking down the Kansas City backline. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen matched his career-high with seven saves against Philadelphia and claimed his second straight shutout. That's now four shutouts in the last five matches. In front of him will be a very strong pairing in Matt Besler and Julio Cesar, who started in their 1-1 tie in Philadelphia. Kansas City will probably recall six-foot-two Aurelien Collin to combat Eric Hassli, and they also have the option of bringing in Honduran international Roger Espinoza after his team lost to Mexico in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal on Wednesday night.
Coming off their second victory of the MLS season, Whitecaps FC will need to bring all their new-found confidence to Kansas City to get a positive result against this spirited Sporting KC side.
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 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.