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Depleted Sporting Kansas City hosts travel-weary Vancouver Whitecaps

After two games at BC Place, the Vancouver Whitecaps are back on the road. The Whitecaps will face Sporting Kansas City at the Children’s Mercy Park at 5:30 p.m. PST Saturday.

Traditionally one of the strongest teams in the Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City had a poor start to the 2019 MLS season. SKC is 2-4-4 with just 10 points for 11th place in the Western Conference,  two points behind the Whitecaps — but with two games in hand. 

SKC coach Peter Vermes’ side has been hit with the injury bug, too. Ten players are currently out with injuries, including veterans Matt Besler (hamstring) and Graham Zusi (oblique). 

“We have to keep ourselves somewhere in this area of staying competitive to the group so we have a fighting chance as we get more and more guys back,” Vermes said in an interview published on Sporting’s official homepage. “It’s worse before it gets better. Guys keep getting injured, and the other guys who come back aren’t fully 90-minutes fit. That’s where the difficulty is.”

Despite Sporting’s slow start to the season and injury worries, Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos believes Kansas City remains a strong opponent. 

“They’re a very strong team at home. It’s very special to play there,” Dos Santos said of SKC. 

Said Whitecaps midfielder Felipe Martins: “They are having a very tough time, a lot of injuries. At the same time, they are still a good team with a good mentality.”

Dos Santos has his own selection headaches at the moment.

“I am totally lost right now,” he said. “We will have a meeting on the plane, while we cross to the other side, with the medical department and look at the data, talk to some players. The turnaround is very fast.”

It is indeed another quick turnaround for the Whitecaps. Last Friday, the Whitecaps defeated the Portland Timbers 1-0 in a tough Cascadia Derby, then lost 1-0 to MLS Cup champion Atlanta United on Wednesday. They are now off to play Sporting KC Saturday and then the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday before returning home to host Dallas FC a week from now. 

“We need to recover every chance we get,” fullback Jake Nerwinski said. “Sleeping, resting on the plane as much as we can, and once we get to Kansas City we need to do the proper preparations.”

The travel and quick succession of games has taken a toll on the Whitecaps. Winger Lass Bangoura will be out for this road trip, and Jon Erice will miss the game against Sporting as well (he might catch up with his team in New York for the game against the Red Bulls, however). 

Vancouver finally won two games in a row when it defeated Portland and the Whitecaps even briefly held a playoff spot. The game against Atlanta United, however, was a setback, not just in terms of the result but also in the way the Whitecaps performed. 

“When you look at the stats, we did a lot of things right,” Martins said. “We had more possession and forced them to play differently, that is a good sign. At the same time, we were not sharp enough.”

Against Kansas City, the Whitecaps do not just want to continue their improvement in the possession statistics department, but also be more dangerous in the final third. 

“We are going to go there with the full energy and full confidence that we can make points and win the game,” Martins said. “If we do our job the way we train with our coaching staff we can win anywhere in this league.”

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