Crushed in Kansas: Alan Pulido brace sinks Vancouver Whitecaps in dominant 3-0 Sporting Kansas City win

The Vancouver Whitecaps took on Sporting Kansas City on Sunday in their 6th game of the MLS season, as they’d fall 3-0 to their fellow Western Conference foes, who rode an Alan Pulido brace to victory. Here’s our match report from that one. 

Unfortunately, it was a familiar sight for Vancouver soccer fans on Sunday. 

Faced off against a Sporting Kansas City side that they’d failed to beat in their last 6 games (all competitions), the Vancouver Whitecaps were always going to be in tough to beat their Western Conference foes, especially away from home. 

And that quickly became evident on the field Sunday, as SKC thoroughly outclassed the ‘Caps in a 3-0 victory, handing Vancouver their 3rd loss of the season, extending their winless streak against Kansas to 7 games.

“Today was our hardest game this season,” ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos admitted after the match. “We struggled, they came at us in waves, and it made it very difficult for us.”

It was one thing to lose 3-0, but it was how they lost that had to be most demoralizing to the ‘Caps, as they just looked second-best for most of the night, and the result reflected that. 

After a strong start to the season, one in which they picked up 7 points from their first 4 games, that now leaves them with back-to-back losses for the first time this year, as they’ve slowly started to come back to earth after a strong start. 

That doesn’t mean they can’t be the team they were through the first 4 games, but it shows that they can’t let their foot go off of the gas pedal going forward, making this game a pivotal learning moment heading into the next couple of games.

“I think overall, we played a team that was better than us tonight, and they’re the team that deserved the 3 points,” Dos Santos said. “Now, we have to react and get out of this game, learn from this game, and not throw away everything we did until this game, and try to see what we could do now to get the next step in games like that.”

As for the game itself, the game actually started out relatively brightly for Vancouver, all things considered.

Despite not seeing much of the ball inside the first 10 minutes of the game, the ‘Caps would actually get the first good chance of the game in the 11th minute, as Lucas Cavallini got his head to a good cross of a corner, but his glanced effort would be easily saved by Tim Melia in the SKC goal. 

After that, though, SKC would take over, and things wouldn’t be pretty for Vancouver. 

First, Khiry Shelton nearly found the back of the net in the 16th minute, capitalizing on a mix-up between Maxime Crepeau and Cristian Gutierrez to get off a decent chipped effort from a tight angle, but his shot sailed just wide. 

Then, Roger Espinoza came quite close with a fantastic low shot off of a great cross from out wide, but Maxime Crepeau did well to react to the quick shot, desperately pawing the ball out. 

Soon after, Daniel Salloi, who was causing all sorts of problems down the ‘Caps right side, came close in the 26th minute, as he sent a low shot just wide from well inside the box, missing a chance to put SKC ahead. 

But less than a minute later, he would get the ball in a similar position, and he’d make no mistake on the second time of asking, slotting home confidently to give Sporting a deserved lead. 

And from there, things would go from bad to worse for the ‘Caps, who would then give away a penalty in the 28th minute, as Ryan Raposo would nick Salloi inside of the box, giving Kansas a spot-kick. 

KC’s most expensive signing in history, Alan Pulido, would then step up to the plate for his team, and make no mistake with the opportunity, hitting his penalty right into the bottom left corner to give his team a 2-goal lead. 

“I think we need to do a better job,” Dos Santos said of the slow start. “There can be a mix of everything (causing it), leadership, experience, stadium, fans, all of that, together.”

Having seen enough, Dos Santos would elect to try and stem the bleeding by making a surprise substitution, bringing in Michael Baldisimo for Ryan Raposo in the 35th minute, giving the ‘Caps a bit more solidity in midfield. 

While it wouldn’t be enough to completely change the game right away, it did help the ‘Caps find their legs a bit, as they wouldn’t concede for the rest of the half, and even found a few chances of their own to close off the stanza. 

Deiber Caicedo first had a great opportunity after a nice run in the 40th minute, but sent his shot well over, before his Colombian counterpart, Cristian Dajome, had a nice opportunity down the right side in the 45th minute, but his low shot was kept out nicely by Melia in the Kansas goal. 

But despite the bright end to the half, that couldn’t mask the fact that it was a very poor first 45 minutes from Vancouver, who were probably lucky not to be down by more considering KC’s wastefulness at times in that half. 

Plus, while their defence wasn’t great, their offence didn’t get much going, either, so it wasn’t like they could turn to missed opportunities as a reason for being down. 

“We have to find solutions right now with what we have,” Dos Santos said of his team’s offence. “We have to generate more.”

Heading into the 2nd half, they had to find a way to change that, because if not, a pretty easy victory for SKC loomed. 

And to give them credit, they found some life early on, as Lucas Cavallini did well to force a 50th-minute turnover, one that allowed Cristian Dajome to face off against Melia unopposed from 6 yards out. 

He would be unable to take advantage of that, though, sending the ball well over despite being so close to goal, leaving the ‘Caps to rue missing what had easily been their best chance of the game up until that point. 

Nearly immediately after, SKC almost made them pay for that lack of finishing, as well. 

In the 55th minute, veteran right back Graham Zusi made a nice back post run, doing well to meet a nice cross from the left-hand side, but Crepeau would stand tall to his volleyed attempt, keeping the ‘Caps in the game. 

A minute later, Salloi continued his strong performance, as he had a pair of chances at the edge of the six-yard box after a scramble inside of the box, but Crepeau stood tall once again to the first effort, before the second one would be saved by Salloi’s teammate, Pulido, who had fallen on the line during the frenzy, denying his team of a sure goal.

Pulido would quickly atone for his mistake, however, as he found some space at the edge of the box in the 58th minute, slotting home into the bottom left corner with a nice driven strike to give SKC a comfortable 3 goal advantage. 

From there, SKC would then cruise to an easy victory, as aside from a few half-chances, they didn’t do much else to threaten Crepeau’s goal, and to be fair, they didn’t really need to. 

At the other end, the ‘Caps did desperately push to at least try and ruin SKC’s clean sheet, as second-half substitute Javain Brown came close with a header in the 64th minute, before Lucas Cavallini did well to sting Melia’s gloves with an effort in the 84th minute, but that’d be all they could muster up. 

And aside from a late Remi Walter shot that would also sting Crepeau’s gloves, that would be all this game had to offer, as SKC would do enough to hold off the ‘Caps and pick up all 3 points, leapfrogging Vancouver in the standings in the process. 

For Vancouver, it was a tough but fair result, as although they could have certainly made the game a lot closer than it ended up being, they were second-best for most of the night, and the scoreline reflected that.

“We need to find a way to start scoring from open play,” Veselinovic said after the game. “Last game, we had a lot of chances to score a goal, today, we didn’t have so many chances. That’s a problem we need to work on.” 

After a solid road performance in midweek, one where they were probably unlucky not to get any points, they just couldn’t find a way to build off of that in this one, and SKC were happy to punish them for that. 

Alas, that’s MLS, though, as you can’t afford to show up and play against the best teams and not be at your best, and that was unfortunately a lesson that these young ‘Caps ended up learning on Sunday. 

“Right now, this was our most difficult game this year,” Dos Santos said. “We have to analyze what happened in the first 5 games that we liked, and what happened in (this) 6th game than we didn’t like.”

Player of the game: Michael Baldisimo

Baldisimo in action for the ‘Caps in 2020 (Keveren Guillou)

It’s very difficult to pick a player of the game in a performance like this, but it’s something we make sure to do every game, so for this one, we’ve elected to go with substitute Michael Baldisimo, who really settled the game down after coming on in the 35th minute.

We almost never pick substitutes for our player of the game, but Baldisimo did enough to earn the nod on Sunday, as he gave the ‘Caps a bit of juice in a midfield unit that seemed short-manned against SKC in the middle of the park to start the game. 

So far this year, he’s arguably been the ‘Caps most important player when he’s on the field, as it’s no coincidence that the ‘Caps are undefeated when he starts in 2021, but have picked up all 3 of their losses in the 4 games where he didn’t. 

Hopefully, that means that we see more of him going forward, especially now that he appears to be fully recovered from the knock that’s seen him slide in and out of the squad these past few weeks. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Derek Cornelius

Elsewhere, it was an interesting performance from our player to watch in this one, as Cornelius certainly didn’t have a bad game, but he wasn’t at his best, either, as he put up what could be best described as a 5/10 match for the ‘Caps. 

He wasn’t really at fault for any of the goals, except for maybe the first one, where he was a tad slow to pick up Daniel Salloi, but overall that was more indicative of the fact that it was just a poor game from the ‘Caps defensive group as a whole. 

Missing usual defensive leaders Erik Godoy or Andy Rose, the ‘Caps just couldn’t seem to control their defensive line, often dropping deep when SKC had possession, inviting them to send wave-after-wave of pressure towards their goal. 

So while Cornelius wasn’t necessarily the main problem with that, he unfortunately just didn’t provide any solutions, either, making his performance a mixed one overall. 

Heatmap of the game: 

And there’s no better way to help symbolize the ‘Caps struggles in this game than by looking at the heat map, as Vancouver returned to their 2019 ways in this game, something that was unfortunately reflected in these charts. 

Defensively, they just couldn’t keep SKC out of their final third, inviting pressure, but couldn’t do much with the ball at the other end, either, making it a relatively easy night for the Sporting defence. 

Overall, it just wasn’t a great game from Vancouver by most metrics, and this is just one of many ways to show that. 

xG plot of the game:

And if anything, when we look at the Expected Goals (xG) plot from the game, it just makes the heat map look flattering to the ‘Caps, as this chart paints a very good picture of how poor the ‘Caps were overall during this game.

From a slow start, to a bad second half, SKC were the aggressors for most of this game, and they were well rewarded for their efforts, with the goals painting a pretty accurate picture of this game, for once. 

For the ‘Caps, it’s another game where they just failed to create more than their opponent, and unfortunately, their defence wasn’t able to do what they have done at times and provide the superhuman performance required to overcome that. 

Foreshadowing of the game? 

Shout out to Theo Bair who finally made his 2021 MLS debut for the ‘Caps in this one, as he had a good 10 minute run off of the bench to end this game. 

He was one among a few good substitute appearances for ‘Caps U23 players, but we just wanted to highlight his in particular because it now sets up an interesting scenario for next weekend. 

And as seen above, Beau Chevalier of B&G Media predicted earlier this year that Bair would pick up a hat trick against Houston in the ‘wacky predictions’ section of our 2021 Vancouver Whitecaps and MLS predictions article, so it’s quite interesting that Bair made his debut 1 game before that Dynamo match. 

Considering Chevalier was the only one to come close in our 2020 edition of that series, maybe Dos Santos should consider starting Bair next weekend, now…could be the foreshadowing of the century if he does.  

But banter aside, it was great to see Bair return to the lineup in this game, and hopefully this is just the start of what is a profitable 2021 season for him in a ‘Caps shirt. 

Looking Forward:

So now, the ‘Caps will be left to lick their wounds ahead of that aforementioned Dynamo matchup that awaits them next week, in which they’ll have to travel to Houston to play in the muggy Texas evening heat. 

It’s not ideal, but after that, they’ve got nearly a month-long break due to the combination of a bye week and international break, so it’ll be in their interests to come out flying and finish off on a strong note. 

Against a Houston team that has been quite inconsistent to start the year, sometimes looking like world-beaters before coming down to earth in other moments, the ‘Caps will need to bring their A-game on Saturday, knowing that Houston can punish them if they’re feeling up for it. 

But until then, the ‘Caps will have plenty of time to pore over the tape from this game, which was a performance they’d soon like to forget, but will have to instead learn from as the matches continue to get tougher. 

“No, not at all,” Crepeau said when asked if his team might scrap the film from this game. “We’ll see it, and adjust it and correct it. We will what we see good, and we’ll correct where we did not do that.”

“We’re not going to scrap anything.”

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Houston Dynamo, Saturday, May 22nd, 2021, 18:00 PDT, 21:00 EDT (BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston)

Cover photo via: Sporting KC/Twitter

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