After getting smacked by the conference-leading Seattle Sounders last weekend, the Whitecaps have licked their wounds and return home to face Sporting KC, an equally daunting test. The ‘Caps came into this weekend still only a point out of a playoff spot and only two points back of 5th, but they have a tough schedule to finish the season and Sunday’s match won’t be an easy one.
This match against KC was always going to be an important one. With three home games remaining, full points are a near must return from them. But what makes the KC match even more crucial to the Whitecaps playoff aspirations now has been a set of results this weekend that has not proved favourable to Vancouver, as wins for Minnesota, LA Galaxy, RSL, and LAFC have seen the ‘Caps drop to 9th and fall four points back of the playoff line. Three points on Sunday puts them right back in the mix, one does little, and none at all would be an ominous blow to their postseason hopes and dreams.
The biggest challenge for the ‘Caps remains the health of their backline, as Andy Rose is doubtful and both Érik Godoy and Ranko Veselinović are questionable to play. Given that we’ve seen the likes of Patrick Metcalfe and Michael Baldisimo try their hand at centre-back over the last couple weeks, any measure of relief would be welcome.
While that might not come amongst the central defenders this weekend, hopefully the wingback position is shored up properly for the first time in a while. Cristián Gutiérrez made his return to the bench in Seattle and though he didn’t play, it was a sight for sore eyes considering he’s the only natural left-sided defender on the roster. We’ve yet to see him play as a true wingback, and considering his offensive chops from early this season it’ll be fun to see him attack the role.
On the right side, Javain Brown might be a little travel-weary after spending the international break with Jamaica, but in terms of game freshness he should be good to go as he only played a total of 20 minutes over the three international games. Gutiérrez and Brown, despite being the club’s two best players at their respective positions this season, have only started five matches together.
The ‘Caps’ other international representative, Maxime Crépeau, logged a lot more minutes but if he’s able to play he obviously will be given the gloves against Kansas City. Thomas Hasal, in his 7th start of the season, was not impressive against the Sounders, looking shaky at times and not able to steal a goal or two like Crépeau often has. His time may very well come soon enough in Vancouver, but for now Crépeau is in great form for both club and country.
Someone who has not been in great form is Lucas Cavallini, and he provides an interesting conundrum for Vanni Sartini. Given the form Brian White is in, it’s quite hard to justify benching him on Sunday. Cavallini has dealt with injuries this season, and when healthy he’s not been nearly as sharp as you’d expect your big-money DP striker to be. The most damning stat is that White has scored more goals this season than Cavallini has in his two here in Vancouver!
Of course, White was not looking too hot in his own right until Ryan Gauld came into the fold, and Cavallini hasn’t had much of a chance to play with Gauld. Is the talismanic Scotsman the piece that will help unlock Cavallini? Or is the writing already on the wall for the Canadian forward’s time with the ‘Caps? It’s hard to imagine the club not taking an offer to unload him in the offseason if one does arrive, and giving the keys to Nikos Overheul and whoever the new manager ends up being to find a new number nine.
For now, at least, Cavallini will likely be on the bench upon his first return from his latest injury. If Gutiérrez starts that will push Cristian Dájome up to one of the front three once again, likely bumping Déiber Caicedo back to a super-sub role. Dájome has been a workhorse and one of the heroes for the ‘Caps this year, going from leading the team in goals to dropping back to play a wholly different position and logging more minutes than anyone else on the team.
Looking at the visitors, SKC have not played in two weeks, last beating Houston 4-2 at home back on October 3rd. They have a quite strong 6-2-4 record in their last twelve matches and are currently locked in a battle with Colorado to try and hold on to the 2nd seed in the Western Conference.
Daniel Salloi has been a man on a mission in the attack this season, as he is tied for second in the MLS golden boot race with 16 goals to go along with a tidy 7 assists. Johnny Russell also continues to be a danger man with 10 goals and 7 assists of his own, and SKC boasts the third-sturdiest defence in the West, behind – unsurprisingly – Seattle and Colorado.
This is the second meeting between these two sides this season, after the Whitecaps suffered a 3-0 drubbing in Kansas back in May. With a new coach and system implemented since that meeting, we’ll see if the ‘Caps can turn their fortunes around at BC Place. A win would not only be a way to put the rest of the league on notice that Vancouver will be fighting for a playoff place right till the very end, but with how the West is now looking, it’s a necessity.