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Vancouver Whitecaps’ playoff hopes pulverized by in-form Sporting KC

VANCOUVER —  Entering Wednesday night’s match, the Vancouver Whitecaps needed three wins out of their last three games to remain a serious contender in the playoff race. An announced 18,689 fans showed up to see if there was still a realistic chance for this side to make a run to the MLS Cup.

That sliver of hope was pulverised by Sporting Kansas City, which beat the Caps 4-1 at BC Place.

Though the Whitecaps (12-13-7, 43 points) are not yet mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, they now are eight points behind the Portland Timbers and three points behind Real Salt Lake, the teams currently holding the final two Western Conference playoff spots in fifth and sixth place, respectively, in the table. And the No. 7 LA Galaxy are two points ahead. Vancouver also trails all those teams in goal differential.

Aside from a 20-minute spell where the Caps dominated midway through Wednesday’s match, No. 2 Sporting KC (16-8-8, 56 points) showed from the get-go it’s a playoff team in top form.

In the 5th minute, a combination play ended with SKC striker Diego Rubio playing a pass to teammate Gerso Fernandes for a shot on goal, but Whitecaps keeper Stefan Marinovic stopped his curled effort. The Whitecaps tried to gain control, but pressing forward only allowed Sporting to counter, and in the 13th minute, Daniel Salloi was off to the races after he received a long pass from Yohan Croizet. His shot from the edge of the box missed Vancouver’s goal by just a whisker. 

Sporting kept on coming. In the 22nd minute, Rubio turned Vancouver defender Jakob Nerwinski inside out and then play a ball across goal. Marinovic risked his neck to break up the play. Then, in the 27th minute, Sporting KC’s Ike Opara missed an open net from 5 yards out after a Roger Espinoza free kick. 

But in the 29th minute Vancouver almost put the game on its head. Brek Shea broke free on the right and went one-v-one with SKC keeper Tim Melia. His shot beat the keeper, but also fizzed past the far post. 

That chance seemed to get the Whitecaps going. A few minutes later, Felipe saw a shot from a distance go wide and Kei Kamara took a hard shot from 25 yards out that flew over the goal.

Felipe, in particular, seemed to be motivated, and it paid off in the 43rd minute, when the Brazilian scored his first goal of the season to give the Whitecaps a 1-0 lead. SKC failed to clear the ball out of its end, and Kamara spotted Felipe wide open, getting him the ball for a 16-yard scoring shot. 

The Caps could have wrapped it up early in the second half, when Nicolás Mezquida played a long ball forward to Kamara. On a breakaway, Kamara had only the goalkeeper to beat for a clear path to an open Shea on the left for an easy tap-in. Instead, he opted to shoot himself and ended up missing the target. 

The Whitecaps still seemed in control, but were too wasteful with their opportunities. In the 58′ minute, Mezquida missed a shot from close range. A minute later, a Shea header hit the side netting. 

Sporting KC’s equalizer finally came in the 60th minute. Matt Besler played a ball from the right into the center, where Jordon Mutch slipped up, allowing Yohan Croizet to score with a well-placed finish from 14-yards out. The goal put a significant dampener on the mood inside BC Place. As Sporting Kansas City slowly took control over the proceedings, there was almost a sense of deflation — which turned into hopelessness when Sporting added a second goal — that reached from the stands onto the pitch.

In the 82′ minute, SKC forward Khiry Shelton outmuscled defender José Aja and laid the ball off to Sallói, whose shot beat Marinovic at the near post. One could almost hear a needle drop inside BC Place as the Caps’ slim playoff hopes evaporated. 

Espinoza should have then added a third for Sporting Kansas City in the 86′ minute, but Marinovic heroically stopped his close-range shot. 

Not that it mattered.

Even six additional minutes of stoppage time could not save the Whitecaps’ season. Kansas City’s 16-year-old wunderkind, Gianluca Busio, tapped home his first-ever MLS goal in the 95th minute and Sallói added a fourth SKC goal in the 96th minute to complete a miserable night for the home team.

The drama was, however, not done yet. Referee Armando Villarreal handed Kamara a red card for a postgame incident, meaning he will be suspended for the next match if the card stands.

The Whitecaps next play LAFC on the road at 5 p.m. ET Sunday. Sporting Kansas City travels to FC Dallas for a match at the same time.

Lineups

Vancouver Whitecaps (4-1-4-1)

Marinovic – Levis (de Jong, 77′), Maund, Aja, Nerwinski – Mutch – Shea (Techera, 68′), Mezquida, Felipe (Teibert, 68′), Hurtado – Kamara

Sporting Kansas City (4-3-3)

Melia – Sinovic, Besler, Opara, Zusi – Croizet (Busio, 63′), Sánchez, Espinoza – Sallói, Rubio (Shelton, 57′), Fernandes (Russell, 63′)

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