Sporting Kansas City is looking to break an eight-game winless streak at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday against the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps. To get some intel on what it will take to get SKC a win, I got with Sam Rowan from SB Nation’s Eighty Six Forever.
I have a lot of respect for Marc Dos Santos having watched him work in the inaugural season for the Swope Park Rangers. How has he been received so far this season?
Sam: I think those who follow the team closely appreciate the huge task Dos Santos is undertaking. Not only was there massive roster turnover in the offseason, but Dos Santos is also trying to get the Whitecaps to play possession football - something we haven’t seen in Vancouver in a long time. Even with a rough first few matches, I think that overall things are going about as well as could be expected this early in his tenure.
The Whitecaps have scored just 11 goals this season (beating only FC Cincinnati with 10). Fredy Montero leads the way with what is probably a disappointing three goals. Who else else needs to step up? What needs to change?
Sam: While scoring has been an issue, the blame spreads well beyond the strikers. The Whitecaps offseason acquisitions of Lass Bangoura and Lucas Venuto were supposed to provide some added offensive prowess from the wings, but they’ve struggled to finish their opportunities and been far too inconsistent to rely on match in and match out.
Additionally, the Whitecaps have struggled for years to find an attacking midfielder who can play incisive balls in and around the box. While our current crop of midfielders are good statistically and don’t make too many mistakes, they also don’t have game-breaking offensive quality.
Brek Shea played really well on Wednesday night as he faced the team that released him 6 months ago. It seemed to be an easy decision to decline his option after last season, but is there any regret there now?
Sam: Absolutely not. Shea’s option was only picked up last season because of the Front Office’s incompetence (they triggered the option without knowing they had based on a specific clause). While Shea can undoubtedly be brilliant on his best day, he was getting paid way too much for how inconsistent he can be. Also, I doubt that Shea fits the profile of player Dos Santos wants in his squad.
Sam: Starting lineup is still a big question mark and with neither team at its best, I’m going to predict a 1-1 draw.
Sam had some questions for me as well:
KC is 0-3-3 in their last 6 MLS matches after finishing 1st in the West last year, is this all down to injuries, or is there a further issue with the style of play and individual performances?
Cody: The style of play and individual performances have not been good. They’ve not shown off the possession based, beautiful movement play that had Toluca fans ole’ing their own team. But it’s very difficult to avoid blaming that on the downright ridiculous list of injuries. When you lose your captain & anchor of the backline (Besler), when you lose your engine (Espinoza), and when you lose your rock solid holding midfielder that had missed just one game in the last 2+ seasons (Ilie), those issues are going to arise. There was a time not long ago, before the injuries, when SKC was doing well in the Champions League and they appeared to be the toast of the league and ready to win multiple trophies.
It’s definitely been rough. These fans are simply not used to this. SKC win and they do it every year so there is quite a bit of anger and frustration right now. However, I think the last match vs DC looked better and it took a fantastic goal to beat them. But things will improve as injuries subside and I do believe they’ll make the playoffs for the ninth straight year.
Children’s Mercy Park has been a house of horrors for visiting teams in recent years...what makes it such a tough place for away teams to secure a result?
I do think a part of it is Vermes pounding the mentality into the heads of his players. Winning at home is very important to him and part of his philosophy is playing an attractive game for the fans.
But of course the stadium itself, and the fans inside it, create an energy that the guys feed off. The stadium is designed to keep in the sound with the roof at the lowest possible heights. The fans are right on top of you. And they’re loud. From the moment players leave the dressing room, the teams walk through a crowd of fans before entering the field. Honestly this has just been a thing for so long now that I think the players have a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy with winning in front of The Blue Hell. They believe they can beat anyone in the league and when they’ve got the fans behind them it must feel like they’ve got an edge before the first kick.
Erik Hurtado made 105 appearances for the Whitecaps before moving on to SKC in the off-season. How has he looked in limited minutes in Champions League and will he (if healthy) find regular minutes in MLS this season?
I really enjoyed seeing him come off the bench and I was quite excited for him to be the backup for Nemeth. He’s got a different style that will help throw a team off balance upon his insertion into a match. Hurtado is perhaps more direct than Nemeth. That low center of gravity he has allows him to be a bit quicker and he is good at using his strength. Where Nemeth may look to create for a teammate (something he is quite good at) Hurtado may turn and a rip a shot.
I do expect him to see quite a bit of time on the field this year. Unfortunately he went down right when SKC really needed him, but he’s definitely #2 in the depth chart at striker when he returns. I think Vermes will use him as a change of pace off the bench and he is likely to see 90 minutes when the US Open Cup rolls around.
Sporting KC 1 - 0 Whitecaps - Because I’m trying will them to a win.
(4-3-3) Melia, Hasler, Barath, Sinovic, Ilie, Feilhaber, Gutierrez, Croizet, Nemeth, Russell