When: Saturday, November 20, 2021 at 4:00 PM CT (Kickoff 4:08)
Where: Children’s Mercy Park
How to Watch/Stream: Bally Sports KC (regionally) | Bally Sports Midwest (regionally) | Bally Sports App | UniMas | TUDN | MLSsoccer.com | MLS App
After 918 regular season games, the MLS Cup Playoffs are finally here. The first round will find two teams going in the opposite directions clashing. Sporting Kansas City find themselves reeling, having lost three straight after not losing back-to-back games for the entire rest of 2021.
The Vancouver Whitecaps on the other hand are one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference. They’ve lost just one of their last 11 and two of their last 16. In that 16 game stretch, they’ve won nine times. They only have 12 wins on the whole season!
It’s a tale of two halves of this season for Vancouver. They fired former Swope Park Rangers coach Marc dos Santos and replaced him with internal candidate Vanni Sartini. Combine that with the 12 goals from Brian White after he arrived from the New York Red Bulls and they’ve been a team no one wants to see.
Sporting KC’s recent form aside, they enter the playoffs as the 3rd seed in the West (to Vancouver’s 6th seed) but they could have easily been first. The last time they were on the pitch, despite not playing great, they were an egregious missed call away from potentially beating Real Salt Lake and getting a bye to sit out the first round of the playoffs. Instead, both they and the Seattle Sounders choked and have to play an extra game while the Colorado Rapids get a bye. The Sounders couldn’t beat Vancouver at home to secure first place.
This will represent the proverbial rubber match between SKC and Vancouver this year. Sporting got the better of the May 16th home meeting between the clubs when Daniel Salloi scored and Alan Pulido scored twice in a 3-0 win. In the return match, this time in Canada, Vancouver won 2-1. It’s hard to know how much to put into that first Kansas City win since it was so long ago and it was before Vancouver had White and Scottish midfield sensation Ryan Gauld.
Despite recent events, the long-term trends definitely favors KC. They are 5-1-1 in the last seven regular season meetings between these clubs, with the only loss being the last match-up. Over that stretch, Kansas City have a plus 16 goal differential. These teams have never met in the playoffs before, but Sartini gave the team some bulletin board material after they drew the Sounders on Decision Day and found out they’d be meeting Kansas City. When the PR person announced Vancouver would “play” KC in the first round, a boisterous Sartini interrupted and said “No, we’ll beat Sporting Kansas City!”
“We’ll beat Sporting Kansas City.”— Har Journalist (@HarJournalist) November 8, 2021
Vanni Sartini post game. #VWFC
Vancouver’s Recent Form
As we highlighted above, Vancouver’s played quite well in their last 16. Here are their last five games:
- October 20th @ Portland Timbers - 3-2 Win
- October 23th @ San Jose Earthquakes - 1-1 Draw
- October 27th vs. Minnesota United - 2-1 Win
- November 2nd @ LAFC - 1-1 Draw
- November 7th @ Seattle Sounders - 1-1 Draw
For comparison, SKC are 2-3-0. But if you go back further, they are 6-5-0 in their last 11. It’s all or nothing for KC, fitting since that’s what the playoffs entail.
OUT - Felipe Hernandez (suspension), Jaylin Lindsey (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE - None!
*This has been updated based on the official injury report.
#SportingKC Injury / Availability Report:— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) November 19, 2021
OUT - Jaylin Lindsey (hamstring), Felipe Hernandez (suspension)
QUESTIONABLE - None
None! That's music to every SKC fan's ears after that last report. #SKCvVAN #MLSCupPlayoffs
Alan Pulido is looking pretty sharp in training. He’s currently scrimmaging with the rest of the regular starting XI. #SportingKC— Shaun Goodwin (@ShaunGoodwinKC) November 16, 2021
OUT - Caio Alexandre (left foot, fifth metatarsal fracture)
QUESTIONABLE - Cristian Gutierrez (left hamstring)
GOALS: Daniel Salloi (16), Johnny Russell (15), Alan Pulido (8), Gadi Kinda (5), Khiry Shelton (3),
Gianluca Busio, Jaylin Lindsey, Cam Duke (2), Ilie Sanchez, Felipe Hernandez, Luis Martins, Jose Mauri, Remi Walter (1)
ASSISTS: Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell (8), Khiry Shelton, Gadi Kinda (6), Graham Zusi (5), Luis Martins (4),
Gianluca Busio, Alan Pulido (3), Felipe Hernandez, Roger Espinoza (2), Andreu Fontas, Jaylin Lindsey, Remi Walter, Jose Mauri (1)
GOALS: Brian White (12), Cristian Dajome (10), Deiber Caicedo (5), Ryan Gauld (4), Lucas Cavallini (3), Andy Rose (2), Seven with one (1)
ASSISTS: Caicedo (7), Gauld (6), Javain Brown, Dajome, White (5), Cristian Gutierrez (3), Ryan Raposo, Russell Teibert (2), Five with one (1)
Starting XI Predictions
Update: Get your predictions in it’s own story, as usual.
0-2-2. That’s Sporting Kansas City’s record coming off breaks of 10 or more days in 2021. Technically a draw can get it done because of the brick wall known as Tim Melia being available for penalty kick shootouts (remember last year’s historic shootout??). And we’d all sure take that drama over a straight up loss.
It’s hard to ignore momentum though. Vancouver has it and Kansas City, decidedly, don’t. Sporting have been banged up, missing all three Designated Players (Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell and Gadi Kinda) in their season finale loss. What other team in the league could compete with none of their DPs? Not to mention MVP Candidate, Daniel Salloi, is still recovering from an injury. Despite playing down the stretch, he clearly wasn’t himself. If they get all those guys back and they’ve used the two weeks off to find their fitness and form in inter-squad matches (or just get some rest!), the sky is the limit.
However, I can’t ignore trends. We always talk about how the team that gets hot before the playoffs are in a great position. Vancouver are hot. They’ll probably win. BUT, Kansas City absolutely can win. They are second in all of MLS in goals scored. They have the homefield advantage, where they are 9-3-5 this year. And they have all the playoff experience. I expect the crowd to be wild. IF Kansas City get out of the first round, there are decent breaks between each game, with no true ‘mid-week’ games (unless MLS does some wild shenanigans in their scheduling), which favors Peter Vermes’ utter lack of substitutions.
I’ve made the case how this could all work out (or collapse). Let’s hope for the reserve jinx of the prediction.
2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps Win
What do you think? Predictions in the comments are welcome. Let’s chat about it.
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