“This team is motivated”: Despite tough Sporting KC matchup, the Vancouver Whitecaps are confident that their 2021 MLS playoff journey is just about to get started

The Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to take on Sporting Kansas City in a massive MLS playoff matchup on Saturday. Here’s our preview ahead of that one. 

It’s quickly snuck up on us, but it’s finally here. 

In a matter of hours, the Vancouver Whitecaps will take the pitch in Kansas on Saturday, where they’ll take on Sporting Kansas City in the first round of MLS Playoff action. 

Having missed the playoffs 3 seasons in a row, this is massive for the ‘Caps, who finally get another chance to etch their names in MLS history, of which they’d certainly do if they were to go on a run these playoffs. 

After making a late regular season push, one that saw them lose just 3 times over their last 25 games, only booking a spot in the postseason in the last minute of their last game, just getting here was a journey in its own. 

But while they’re certainly satisfied with that accomplishment, they know that it’ll quickly be forgotten if they don’t do anything in the playoffs now, making it key that they come out strong vs Kansas in this game. 

As fun as it was to clinch a playoff spot in front of ~25 000 screaming Whitecaps fans 2 weeks ago, that will be just an afterthought if their playoff run gets cut short, and they’re aware of that. 

“What a cool moment for us, I was so proud being in that stadium, listening to our fans at BC Place, singing ‘Stand by Me’, and that’s a special moment for us,” Whitecaps captain, Russell Teibert, said this week. “The focus has shifted, though, it’s always been here, playing in that playoff game, making the playoffs, we did that, we accomplished that, but we’re not settled with that.”

“This team is motivated, this team is ready, and this team is ready to go to Kansas and get a result.”

And it’s been that mentality that Teibert mentions that has been so key on this run. 

After a tough start to the year, it seemed like the ‘Caps were destined for their 4th straight season of futlity, not only missing out on the playoffs, but doing so in quite emphatic fashion. 

But then, partway through the year, everything clicked. 

Thanks to some important mid-season transfers, including the acquisitions of Ryan Gauld, Brian White and Florian Jungwirth, as well as the hiring of interim head coach Vanni Sartini, the ‘Caps became one of the hottest teams in MLS, vaulting their way into the playoffs. 

Because of that, they enter this game filled with confidence, knowing that on their day, it’s been hard for anyone in MLS to keep up with them, as of late, something they’ll look to remind Kansas of when this game kicks off on Saturday. 

“Yeah, we have the confidence, but also we have to be focused on the task that we’re doing, that’s the best way to get confidence,” Sartini explained. “Because in a playoff game, we don’t have to go outside the game, so maybe we can score after 5 minutes, and maybe they can score after 5 minutes, like it happened with Seattle the last game, so we have to keep in the game and concentrated on what we do, and I think we can fight for the entire game, and at the end, we’ll be happy.”

But at the same time, it’s important to note how tough of a game this will be for the ‘Caps. 

Not only were Sporting KC one of the best teams in MLS all year long, but they’ve had the Whitecaps number in recent years, only losing once to them since the start of 2018. 

So while it was big for the ‘Caps to snap that unbeaten run by picking up that first win in 3 years a month or so ago at BC Place, they still haven’t won in Kansas since 2017, something they’ll now have to change in this game if they’re to advance. 

Plus, having only won twice on the road this year, they’ve been in tough whenever they’ve played in these sorts of venues, no matter the opponent, so the fact that they’ve now got to play a tough Kansas side that they’ve struggled against recently is only adding to their potential misery. 

Yet despite that, the ‘Caps remain confident. 

They know that they’re a changed team, as they’ve spent much of the last few months reminding everyone else in the league of, and will look to continue that into this game now. 

Plus, with nearly everyone healthy, with just Caio Alexandre and Cristian Gutierrez set to miss out on this game, they’ve got all of the pieces to keep that run going. 

This is a new Whitecaps team, and they’ll aim to prove that on Saturday, hopefully kickstarting an epic playoff journey.  

“We are a completely different team in terms of awareness and belief,” Sartini confidently explained. “Of course, we also changed tactically, we play in a different way, so I think the key is to try and play the way we did at BC Place. (That’s) being very aggressive, having a lot of men in their half for the pressure, so even if they have more of the ball, it’s more in their half and not in our half, that’s the key.”

And when you then factor in the ‘Caps big win over them last month, that only adds to the confidence that they have heading into this game, something they’re not afraid of shying away from. 

“It’s obvious that playing away at their stadium is a tough place to play in,” Gauld added. “But we’re going to have to take this game the same way we went into the last one, not necessarily take the game to them, but we’re not going there to defend. We’re not going there to sit back and wait for a counter-attack, we’re going there with the intention to win in 90 minutes, and if it takes longer than that, so be it, but we need to take the positives that we had in that last game with them, and also the negatives, and work on them,”

So seeing all of that, this promises to be an epic encounter. 

With it just being a 1-game matchup, one where the winner will continue and the loser will head home, these are the sorts of games where legends are made of. 

We’ve seen that over the last few years of MLS Cup playoff action, and this game is expected to be no exception to that, likely providing tales to write home about. 

For the ‘Caps, they believe that they can be on the right end of that, in turn setting off the sparks to keep going, continuing their so-far epic journey. 

“Of course, it’s always hard to win, but this is a different game,” Jungwirth said. “Usually in the regular season there’s always a tomorrow, but now, there is no tomorrow, so either we advance, or we fly to Hawaii. But I think we’re mentally strong enough to beat them, to overcome them, in general, they have more to lose than us.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Maxime Crepeau

And one player that will be key for them in that quest will be Crepeau, who as the team’s MVP, played a big role in just helping this team get this far, and will be expected to do the same again on Saturday. 

Fresh off of being snubbed as a nominee for MLS’s goalkeeper of the year award, he’ll be motivated, too, eager to remind people of what he’s able to do. 

In a game where goals will steal the headlines, don’t forget the role that those who are paid to keep them out can do, and Crepeau will be sure to showcase his abilities in a game of this magnitude, as he has done all year long for the ‘Caps. 

Maxime Crepeau celebrates the ‘Caps clinching a playoff spot at BC Place earlier this month (Keveren Guillou)

Storylines:

Otherwise, here are some storylines to keep an eye on ahead of this one. 

It’s White, it’s Gauld: 

And to start, it only feels right to highlight the ‘Caps dynamic attacking duo of Brian White and Ryan Gauld, who played a massive role in their side’s late push, scoring several clutch goals. 

Because of that, there’s no doubt that without White (12 goals, 5 assists) and Ryan Gauld (4 goals, 5 assists), the ‘Caps would unlikely be here, so it only would make sense that if the ‘Caps were to advance from this game, this pair would have their fingerprints all over this one. 

But at the same time, though, don’t forget about a 3rd attacking piece, though, and that’s Cristian Dajome, who will be expected to round out this offensive trident on Saturday. He might not be as talked about as much as he should be, but with 10 goals and 4 assists, he’s been as formidable as both White and Gauld, and will also be expected to play a big role in this game, too. 

Salloi one to watch:

On the other side, though, keep a close eye on SKC’s Daniel Salloi, who thanks to a massive season, one where he scored a whopping 16 goals and added 8 assists, was nominated for the MLS’s MVP award. 

As a result, it’ll be important that the ‘Caps hone in on him, because if not, it just feels inevitable that he’ll score. 

On a team that includes other dangerous threats such as Johnny Russell (15 goals, 7 assists) and Alan Pulido (8 goals, 2 assists), two names that the ‘Caps will also have to keep a close eye on, Salloi led the way for most of the season, and will be expected to do the same once agian in this game. 

Early kickoff could play a role:

Lastly, it’ll be interesting to see if the time that this game will kick off at, which will be 16:00 local, which doesn’t seem too early, but will be early for the ‘Caps, who the game will be at 14:00 PST for. 

To try and adjust to that, the ‘Caps flew out to Kansas a bit early, and started training a lot earlier in the day all week, getting their bodies into a rhythm to get going that early, but it could play a role in their performance regardless. 

As they’ve shown all year, this sort of thing usually doesn’t bother them, so they’ll have to keep doing so, because if not, the last thing that they’ll want is to have it play a factor in such a key game. 

Projected XIs: 

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Head Coach: Vanni Sartini

2021 Record: 12W-9L-13D (49 PTS)

Sporting Kansas City:

Head Coach: Vanni Sartini

2021 Record: 17W-10L-7D (58 PTS)

2021 Matchups:

Sporting Kansas City 3-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Sporting Kansas City

Looking Forward:

So all-in-all, this game promises to be a cracker, for many reasons. 

From the ‘Caps epic push just to get here, to the atmosphere that Kansas will bring as hosts, this game will be one to remember for fans of both sides. 

For the ‘Caps, though, they’ll look to end up on the right side of the equation when the final whistle blows, only adding to the story that they’ve so far written. 

After writing a lot of key chapters just to make it here, they’re far from done writing everything yet, and will look to augment their volume with a game to remember on Saturday. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, November 20th, 2021, 14:00 PST, 17:00 EST (Children’s Mercy Stadium, Kansas)

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