Sporting KC return to the pitch this Saturday, August 20th, 2016 (38 The Spot, SKCTV, MLS Live -- note the late 9:00 PM CT start time) to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps for the third time in 2016. SKC defeated the Caps in the second game of the season behind a Dom Dwyer brace before settling for a tie in the return match at the end of April. This meeting is just three days before these teams will meet again (in Vancouver instead of Kansas City) for the first of two CONCACAF Champions League matches.
Sporting are undefeated against Vancouver at home (3-0-1) including my 2015 Game of the Year when they came from behind to win 4-3 almost a year ago to the date (August 15th). That match included three goals after the 80th minute to complete the epic comeback.
This match-up has a lot on the line for both teams. Sporting are sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference playoff race (35 points) just three points ahead of sixth place Portland and four points ahead of San Jose, both of which have games in hand. Vancouver is in eight and just five points back of KC. Likely Vancouver will be desperate for points and to make a push for the playoffs.
That is evident by recent transactions that Vancouver has completed as well. Former Sporting KC man Marcel de Jong has been lining up at left back where he saw time with KC last season. Vancouver also added David Edgar (D), Alphonso Davies (M) and Giles Barnes (F) during the transfer window. Barnes is obviously the biggest name of the bunch coming over in a deal from the Houston Dynamo. Davies is also a name you may know as he's only 15-years-old and just moved up from Vancouver Whitecaps 2. This season he had a game winning goal against SKC reserve side, the Swope Park Rangers.
The importance of the match shouldn't be lost on Dwyer who has scored three times in the last three meetings between these clubs. He should be well rested as he didn't join the rest of the team who traveled to play Central FC in Trinidad and Tobago. Sporting are in the middle of a 15,000 plus mile journey that is over a mere 15 days. This is the third game in a week and there could be tired legs on the pitch. Sporting were aided by the arrivals of Amer Didic and Tyler Pasher for their CCL game, though mysteriously Pasher didn't get on the pitch. After this match-up with Vancouver, the teams heads to Canada to play them again on Tuesday, just three days later. Let's get to the numbers.
– Sporting KC: None
– Whitecaps: None
Suspended Next Yellow Card:
– Sporting KC: None
– Whitecaps: Kendall Waston (who will definitely get a yellow at some point).
– Sporting KC:
OUT: Justin Mapp (left calf strain), Tim Melia (back injury), Chance Myers (hamstring strain), Seth Sinovic (ankle injury)
QUESTIONABLE: Nuno Andre Coelho (hamstring strain), Graham Zusi (hamstring strain), Brad Davis (left calf strain), Paulo Nagamura (left thigh strain), Ike Opara (ankle), Matt Besler (MCL Sprain)
OUT: Christian Dean (meniscus tear), Kekuta Manneh (right foot surgery), Jordan Harvey (left knee sprain)
QUESTIONABLE: Marco Bustos (left eye injury), Tim Parker (knee sprain)
Sporting Kansas City's Last Five: L/W/W/L/T
Vancouver's Last Five: T/T/L/L/L
– Sporting KC: Dom Dwyer (12)
– Whitecaps: Pedro Morales (6)
Starting XI Prediction:
Abdul-Salaam – Coelho – Olum – Medranda
Feilhaber – Mustivar – Espinoza
Peterson – Dwyer – Zusi
Rest of the 18: Kempin, Rubio, Porter, Ellis, Alvarado, Hallisey, Nagamura, Davis
With Sporting playing their third game in a weeks time (with a ton of travel in between; Dallas to T&T to KC) Peter Vermes indicated at practice yesterday that everyone is a maybe. That said, I expect that if one game gets priority over another it's this one. The CCL game Tuesday will likely feature more Swope Park Ranger players and reserve players like Emmanuel Appiah.
The center-back pairing of Coelho and Lawrence Olum isn't one that worked well earlier this season, but options are limited. Besler has been upgraded to questionable and my best guess is chances won't be taken with the knock that Opara picked up in his last game. Nuno is much better than Kevin Ellis, even if Olum and Nuno seemed to have chemistry issues. The good news is Jimmy Medranda and Saad Abdul-Salaam have looked great at their outside back roles and appear to be the starters for the foreseeable future.
The midfield has stayed the same much of the season and thankfully have had limited injuries compared to the rest of the players on the team. Nagamura played against Central FC, but I know Benny will return to his starting role and Mustivar and Espinoza served their one game suspensions, so the boys should all be back together. On the wing, I'm less certain. Peterson seems to be a starter now with health concerns for Zusi and Davis. I imagine Zusi will start again, but it could be Davis. Whoever it is needs to stay healthy if SKC has any hope down the stretch.
Despite all the roster shuffling, the good news is Vancouver is unsettled. They have lost three straight league games and aren't good on the road in KC. Vancouver haven't won a league game in over a month since they beat RSL at home. If we think Sporting can't score goals, at least they can defend. While Vancouver has actually scored four more goals than SKC, they have allowed 11 additional goals in league play. Sporting are fifth best in goals allowed per game (1.15) while Vancouver sit 16th with 1.64 goals finding the back of the net per game.
It's hard to know what the travel will do to Sporting, but the crowd at Children's Mercy Park should be rowdy. The start time is an abnormally late 9:00 PM CT, apparently due to TSN wanting a 7:00 PM start in Vancouver. The crowd could be extra excited though as there will be a concert by Tech N9ne before the game and assistant coach and former player Kerry Zavagnin will be inducted into the Sporting Legends at halftime.
With the Caps being without Manneh (their second leading goal scorer) and likely without Tim Parker, both sides of the ball are hurting. If Tim Melia was healthy and Sporting weren't on such short rest, I'd say this is a slam dunk. But with Alec Kann likely returning to the net after Jon Kempin had a very shaky outing midweek, I'm less confident. Kann has made some mistakes, including an error that led to the draw in Dallas instead of the team picking up the full three points. That said, the odds still favor the home side.
Prediction: 2-1 Sporting KC Win
I'll say Dom Dwyer continues his good run of form and Brad Davis comes off the bench with the game winning assist, which will move him to a tie for first all-time in that category. He currently one behind Landon Donovan and Steve Ralston who have 41 game-winning assists to their names.