Vancouver Whitecaps FC will take to the road again this Sunday, May 16 to face another Western Conference rival in Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park.
We break down three things you need to know about the ‘Caps next opponent.
ONE TO WATCH
This Sunday, the ‘Caps will come up against a Sporting KC team with the exact same record as them through five matches and also coming off a mid-week intra-conference loss.
In those first five matches, there’s been plenty of players that have turned some heads, including Mexican international Alan Pulido, Scottish winger Johnny Russell and USYNT youngster Gianluca Busio.
But perhaps the most impressive of the bunch has been Designated Player midfielder Gadi Kinda.
‘Caps fans will remember Kinda scored his first MLS goal against the Blue and White in last season’s home opener at BC Place, curling a strike from the top of the box into the top corner.
After recording six goals and four assists in his debut season, Kinda has now carried over last year’s form into this season, as he already sits as Sporting’s leading goalscorer with two, including a game winner last weekend against expansion side Austin FC.
For the better part of the opening five games, Kinda has played as one of the three midfielders in head coach Peter Vermes’ 4-3-3 formation, usually being one of the more attacking-minded midfielders with the ability to get into the box to contribute with goals and assists.
The ‘Caps will have to be wary, as Kinda is the type of player who can roam all around the attacking third. He can slip through into the box, help control possession at the top of the 18, or even drift out wide to take on defenders 1v1.
As mentioned before, Sporting’s preferred formation throughout the last couple of years has been the 4-3-3, a system used to benefit teams building out of the back and through the midfield which gives multiple supporting options to every player in possession.
This means Kansas City is a team that loves dominating possession, but as ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos said in media availability this week, they’re also a team who can switch play with a more vertical approach.
“They’ve become a little more vertical, it’s a team that’s been a possession-based team but now they’ve become more vertical in some of their actions,” said Dos Santos.
By being vertical and possession-based at the same time, Sporting can spring attackers like Pulido, Russell and Busio forward to run in behind for balls over the top, which can cause teams to sit deeper, thus giving their possession-based midfield trio of Kinda, Ilie Sanchez (pictured, with Cristian Dajome) and Roger Espinoza plenty of time to assess the field to find the best option going forward.
“[They’re] always an MLS playoff contender, they won our division last season so it’s going to be a big challenge for us as a team,” said Dos Santos.
As much as Sporting like to dominate possession, it could bode well for a ‘Caps team that has utilized their high press and transition game to a tee this season.
We saw plenty of moments in transition for the ‘Caps against Minnesota United FC, with some coming from pressing high up the field or winning a duel in midfield.
Either way, if the ‘Caps can use those strengths against SKC on the weekend to force turnovers in the midfield, Cristian Dájome, Deiber Caicedo and Lucas Cavallini could have plenty more chances to combine on the counter as we’ve seen many times already this season.
In fact, the ‘Caps lead MLS in percentage of dribblers tackled with 53.5% and are among the top three teams with the highest number of dribblers tackled at 38. Add in Cavallini’s league-leading 59.09% successful duels won and we’re bound to see lots of ‘Caps chances on the counter.
You can catch the match live this Sunday, May 16 at 11 a.m. PT on TSN2 and AM730, with the radio pre-game show starting at 10 a.m. PT.