211120-SKCvVAN-MatchPreview-DL

Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs | Round One
Saturday, Nov. 20 | 4 p.m. CT (4:08 kickoff)
Children’s Mercy Park | Kansas City, KS

Broadcast Schedule:
English TV | Bally Sports KC, Bally Sports Midwest Plus
Spanish TV | UniMas, TUDN
Streaming | BallySports.com, Bally Sports app, MLSsoccer.com, MLS app
Radio | ESPN 94.5 FM, La Grande 1340 AM

Three-seed Sporting Kansas City (17-10-7, 58 points) hosts six-seed Vancouver Whitecaps FC (12-9-13, 49 points) in the first round of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs at 4 p.m. CT on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park. A limited number of tickets are available at SeatGeek.com and fans can purchase standing room only tickets beginning at 8 a.m. CT on Saturday.

The match will be broadcast locally in English on Bally Sports KC and Bally Sports Midwest Plus, nationally in Spanish on UniMas and TUDN, and can also be streamed via BallySports.com and MLSsoccer.com as well as the Bally Sports and MLS apps. ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM will broadcast the game over the radio. In addition, there will be live updates throughout the match from @SKCMatchday on Twitter and supporters can access the Sporting KC mobile app for in-game stats and exclusive offers.

The 2021 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs are a single-elimination tournament between the seven best teams from each conference. Thanks to another successful regular season, Manager Peter Vermes and Sporting KC will play a home playoff match for the third time in the last four seasons as the team makes a 10th appearance in the last 11 postseasons.

Vancouver enters the match with considerably less playoff experience as only six Whitecaps players have appeared in an MLS playoff match. Interim manager Vanni Sartini is in just his third month at the helm and this will mark the first ever post-season match between these two clubs as well.

While having never met in the playoffs, these sides are no strangers to one another. The two clubs have met on 19 occasions with Sporting leading the all-time series 11-4-4. This season, the teams split their two meetings with both home teams taking all three points. The first matchup came on May 16 with Sporting winning 3-0 on the backs of an Alan Pulido brace and Daniel Salloi goal. Vancouver got their revenge on Oct. 10 by way of a 2-1 win at BC Place north of the border.

In 2021, Vermes has the team firing on all cylinders with one of the most impressive attacks in Sporting KC history. Sporting’s 58 goals not only rank second in MLS in 202, but are also the second-most goals in a 34-match season in club history. The 17 wins Sporting posted in 2021 is one off from the all-time club record.

Leading the charge for the offense was the two-headed monster of Salloi and Johnny Russell. Salloi led the team in goals (16), tied for the team lead in assists (8) and was among the top goal contributors in MLS. His performance turned heads as the Sporting KC Academy product is one of five finalists for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP. On the other side of the attack is Russell, the team's captain. The Scottish international posted a career year himself with 15 goals and eight assists to earn Sporting KC Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Sporting was not just dangerous in the final third as the team's midfield features some of the best passers in the league this season. Gadi Kinda, Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza and Remi Walter aided Sporting’s efforts in leading MLS in passes attempted (17,698), passes successful (15,131) and passing accuracy (85.5%). The quartet combined for seven goals and 11 assists as well.

While the midfielders and forwards provided the offense, the backline anchored the field with consistent defending. Andreu Fontas had one of the best MLS seasons of any centerback, leading the league in goals added and setting MLS single-season records in touches (3178), passes (2818) and passes successful (2515). To his left, Luis Martins was the only player to appear in all 34 matches for Sporting Kansas City this season, serving up four assists and a goal from his outside back position.

The Vancouver Whitecaps have endured a strange year due to COVID-19 restrictions, starting their season sharing a stadium with Real Salt Lake. After returning to British Columbia, the Whitecaps found themselves in last place in the Western Conference. The club parted ways with head coach Marc Dos Santos and Sartini led the club into playoff position. Since mid-July, the Whitecaps have lost just two matches, culminating in a six-match unbeaten streak and the sixth spot in the Western Conference.

Leading the way for Vancouver is forward Brian White. White joined Vancouver from the New York Red Bulls in June and leads the team in goals with 12. Ryan Gauld, another midseason accusation for Vancouver after joining in July, has been a spark for the club and leads the Whitecaps’ midfielders in assists (6) in addition to four assists. Gauld, 25, made his professional debut in 2012 for Dundee United, subbing on for Russell as the two now go head-to-head on Saturday.

The Round One match-up features two teams with contrasting styles of play. Vancouver possessed the ball on average 46.1% of the time in 2021, 24th in MLS, while Sporting possessed the ball 55.2% of the time, second-most in MLS. Dealing with that possession for Vancouver will be center back Ranko Veselinovic, who led the team in clearances (100) and blocks (44). The final line of defense for the Whitecaps is goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau who had 97 saves and six clean sheets in 27 starts.

Thanks to the international break, Sporting had a well-deserved rest period after the end of the regular season on Nov. 7 to allow key contributors - including Designated Players Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda - to recover from injury. Sporting will be without defender Jaylin Lindsey as he is sidelined by a hamstring injury, however the remainder of Sporting's roster is injury free entering the match. Meanwhile, Caio Alexandre is out for Vancouver and Christian Gutierrez is doubtful for the Whitecaps.

The winner between Sporting KC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC will advance to the Western Conference Semifinals to await the winner between Seattle Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake, who play on Tuesday to conclude Round One of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.