The Vancouver Whitecaps take on Sporting Kansas City in the Round of 16 at MLS is Back on Sunday. Here is our preview ahead of that match.
After sitting on the brink, they’ve lived to fight another day.
In one of the more surprising turns that we’ve seen so far at the MLS is Back tournament, the Vancouver Whitecaps etched their way through the group stages with a surprise 2-0 victory in their last game against the Chicago Fire, as they did just enough to make it through as one of the best 3rd place teams.
Now, as a result of their late heroics against the Fire, where they scored 2 goals in a 5-minute span in the second half, they now find themselves among the 16 remaining teams at the Orlando tournament, which continues with a single game knockout bracket from here on in.
So despite looking like a team that seemed destined to head home with no points after their first 2 games, 2 tough losses to the San Jose Earthquakes and the Seattle Sounders, all of a sudden the ‘Caps are right back in the mix of things, with everything still to play for.
For head coach Marc Dos Santos, who’s faced a lot of adversity at this tournament, thanks to a depleted roster and tough schedule, it’s been an interesting time to be at the helm of these ‘Caps, who have taught him a lot these past few games.
From learning from their negative moments in the 2nd games, to deriving the positives from that 3rd victory, it’s been all about learning so far in Orlando, and Dos Santos continuing to do that will be crucial if the ‘Caps are to have any further success at this tournament.
“You use it in the same way that you did in the other games where you learnt from it,” Dos Santos said of using these matches as teaching points. “The same way when we lost against San Jose, or we lost against Seattle, we didn’t put our heads down, we used those games to grow and to become better, and when we went into the Chicago game, we always believed that we had a chance of moving forward.”
“The important (thing) is to learn with the bad moments, but also learn with the good ones, and with what happened in the last 30 minutes again Chicago, it definitely boosts the confidence of the guys and now there’s a belief that even with everything that happened and the amount of guys that we don’t have here, we could still have a chance of moving forward.”
But now, despite the adventure that getting out of the group stages was for this team, their stiffest challenge is yet to come, as they were drawn with Sporting Kansas City in the knockout stages.
Considering that SKC has picked up 6 of 9 points so far at MLS is Back, scoring 6 goals and only conceding 3 along the way, they’ll be no small threat, especially when you factor in their torrid start to the 2020 season, which had them scoring 7 goals and only conceding 1 in 2 early-season victories.
That means of the 5 times that they’ve played this year, they’ve won 4 of them, and have scored goals in all of them. With 2 clean sheets, and just overall solid play from their roster, they very much will be playing the role of favourites in this one, especially against a tired ‘Caps squad.
At the same time, the ‘Caps will hope to surprise SKC on Sunday, much as they did against the Fire. They showed that they can bunker down and chase a result, which has shown to be a blueprint towards success against this SKC side, provided that you don’t concede early and allow them to get into a rhythm.
As Vancouver had the chance to learn in the opening game of the 2020 season, in a 3-1 loss vs SKC that saw the ‘Caps give up an early goal to Alan Pulido, they’ll need to be on their game right from the get-go, which was an issue they struggled with in their first 2 games at MLS is Back.
They rectified that in their last game against the Fire, but you do worry that bad habits could seep back in after the victory, so it’ll be interesting to see which Vancouver side turns up on Sunday.
But either way, expect a good game, and a very different one from the opening day, as both teams look to advance into the quarter-finals at MLS is Back.
“No, it’s a whole different game, (one) that could go even to a penalty shootout, but for sure that there are things that you learn from that game that you are going to try to do better,” Dos Santos said of the early season clash. “We see that there are tendencies as a team that remains the same, since they played us and getting into this tournament.”
“And there’s not going to be a lot of change there, I don’t think we’re going to be surprised by how they play or the principles of their model, because it’s pretty much consistent, on what they do at the club, and us we have to do a good job in those moments of the game.”
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Yordy Reyna
After a relatively slow start to this tournament, Reyna came alive as a super-sub against the Fire, as he scored 1 goal and added an assist off of the bench for the ‘Caps, helping them qualify.
While it’s unsure if he’ll play in a similar role on Sunday, or return to his starting spot, either way, the ‘Caps will need the Reyna who showed up against the Fire to play a big role against SKC, who are big favourites against Vancouver.
Considering Reyna’s streakiness as a player, you never know what you’re going to get, but in this case, the ‘Caps will be especially hopeful that he can show up and come up big in this one.
Can they park the bus again? Considering the success that they had by playing defensively against Chicago, without mentioning the lack of healthy bodies that they have at their disposal, it seems natural to expect Vancouver to play quite defensive soccer against SKC on Sunday.
At this point, it’s about all they can do, so it’ll be interesting to see how SKC fares in trying to break them down in this match. This Sporting KC team can score goals, so it won’t be easy for the ‘Caps to defend, but after keeping a clean sheet against the Fire, Vancouver will be feeling confident in their chances of shoring things up at the back once again.
Will Vancouver find offence? Much has been made of Vancouver’s offensive options at this tournament, mostly due to the fact that they’re missing 3 of their biggest threats up front, but despite that, they scored 5 goals in 3 games in the group stages.
But at the same time, they didn’t exactly light the world ablaze with chances, as they relied on timely finishing to get their goals.
While it worked to get this far, scoring 5 goals on 6 shots is not a sustainable way to score goals, so it’ll be interesting to see if the ‘Caps can muster up some more offence against SKC in this one.
Protect the House: One big turning point for the ‘Caps against the fire was the play of their back 4 and young goalkeeper Thomas Hasal, who made his first MLS start against the Fire, with Maxime Crepeau’s hand injury keeping him out of action for the foreseeable future.
Despite the absence of their star man in Between The Sticks, the ‘Caps tidied things up at the back and kept a vital clean sheet, one that pretty much ensured their qualification to the knockout stages.
A big reason for that? The ‘Caps tightened things up at the back, making things easier for Hasal, who stood out with his poise and calmness despite the magnitude of the occasion.
Hasal pushed his defence, the defence pushed him, and it worked, so if the ‘Caps are to hope for a result against SKC in this one, they’ll need to see more of the same on Sunday.
Ahead of this clash, we took a look at 3 ‘Caps-related statistical storylines, so if you haven’t read that article yet, check that out here.
As for SKC, who we didn’t take much of a look at in that piece, here is what you need to know.
They have the third-best xG at MLS is Back, with a lofty 5.35 Expected Goals (xG), a far cry from the measly 2.95 the ‘Caps have put up.
Defensively, they’re no slouch either, with their 2.08 Expected Goals Against (xGA) ranking 2nd among teams at MLS is Back, also a far cry from the ‘Caps and their tournament worst 8.78 xGA.
Basically, this SKC team loves to attack, and can defend tightly, so if Vancouver is to try and snatch a result out of this one, they’ll need to be tight at the back, and be very efficient with their chances going forward.
It won’t be easy, but considering they showed that they can do it against Chicago, they’ll have hope that they can repeat that act against SKC on Sunday. If not, the statistical picture doesn’t exactly project a fun time for the ‘Caps in this one.
Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos
MiB Record: 1W-2L-0D
Sporting Kansas City:
Head Coach: Peter Vermes
MiB Record: 2W-1L-0D
This game is going to run late on Sunday, with a projected kick off at around 20h00 PST and 23h00 local time, which is a lot later than what we’re used to seeing from games in North America.
So make sure that you’ve got something to keep yourself up to watch this one, as it promises to be an intriguing game, as all MLS knockout games tend to be.
Can the Whitecaps capture lightning in a bottle once again here against SKC? Or is their Disney fairytale going to come to an end Sunday?
We’ll find out Sunday, as both teams renew allegiances for the second time this season, in what should be a pretty good game.
*If you’re looking for an audio preview of this match, check out the 27th episode of the Third Sub Podcast, where we preview the SKC clash with Cody Bradley of the Blue Testament. You can find that episode here.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Sporting Kansas City, Sunday, July 26th, 2020, 20h00 PST
Cover Photo via: Matthew Stith/MLS