"Five Things" is a season-long series presented by the Children's Mercy Sports Medicine Center that highlights the top storylines and players to watch ahead of each match. To visit the series archive, click here.
Following a restful week off, Sporting Kansas City (15-6-7, 52 points) will continue their pursuit of first place in the Western Conference on Sunday night with a visit to Vancouver Whitecaps FC (9-9-10, 37 points) at BC Place. Kickoff is slated for 9 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City, Bally Sports Midwest, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app as well as ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
Five points behind Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders FC, second-place Sporting will look to keep pace against a Whitecaps side that sits just a point below the playoff line. As postseason implications abound, we examine five major storylines surrounding the matchup in the newest edition of Five Things, presented by Children's Mercy Sports Medicine Center.
1. Playoff Push
Winners of four major championships over the last decade, Sporting can secure their 10th playoff berth in 11 seasons with a win or a draw on Sunday. Regardless of the results in the 12 MLS matches that take place before Sporting and Vancouver lock horns this weekend, Manager Peter Vermes' men will punch their ticket to the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs by avoiding defeat at BC Place.
However, Sporting may have their playoff berth locked up even before they take the field in Vancouver. If Minnesota United FC loses or ties at Austin FC or the LA Galaxy lose to the Portland Timbers on Saturday night, Sporting will clinch their spot in the postseason. Vermes' side also has a remote chance of locking up a home playoff game and a top-four finish if multiple results go their way.
Sporting can clinch a berth in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs if...
- Sporting wins or draws at Vancouver on Sunday, OR
- Minnesota United FC loses or ties at Austin FC on Saturday (8 p.m. CT), OR
- LA Galaxy loses vs. Portland Timbers on Saturday (9:30 p.m. CT)
Sporting can clinch a home playoff match and a top-four finish in the West if...
- Minnesota United FC loses or ties at Austin FC on Saturday (8 p.m. CT), AND
- Real Salt Lake loses vs. Colorado Rapids on Saturday (8:30 p.m. CT), AND
- LA Galaxy loses vs. Portland Timbers on Saturday (9:30 p.m. CT), AND
- Sporting wins at Vancouver on Sunday
On the opposite sideline, Vancouver sit one point below the playoff line in eighth place and are scrapping desperately for a return to the postseason after a three-year absence.
2. Forwards in Form
Over the last two months, Sporting captain Johnny Russell and Vancouver striker Brian White have been two of the hottest attacking players in MLS. Russell has tied a club record by scoring in five consecutive regular season matches, bagging six goals during that run, while White has notched nine goals in 10 appearances dating back to Aug. 18.
Russell's productivity since arriving in Kansas City in 2018 is almost unmatched. He is one of two MLS players alongside Carlos Vela with at least 30 goals and 30 assists in the regular season over the last four years and one of only five MLS players with 10 goals and seven assists in 2021. White, meanwhile, scored once in his first 16 games this season but has found his form under interim head coach Vanni Sartini, who took over on an interim basis in late August after Marc Dos Santos was relieved of his duties.
3. Dan the Man
No ifs, ands or buts about it: Sporting winger Daniel Salloi is a bona fide MLS MVP candidate. The 25-year-old forward has been nothing short of a revelation in 2021, leading the league with 23 combined goals (16) and assists (seven). The Hungarian has been simply unplayable throughout the season, scoring one goal after another from the run of play while also creating a bevy of chances for his teammates.
Salloi's 16 non-penalty goals are three more than any other MLS player this year and tied for the most in a single season in Sporting history. If the Sporting KC Academy product continues his tear in Vancouver, the MVP buzz will only grow louder and more difficult for MLS pundits to ignore.
4. Tough to Beat
The Whitecaps endured three straight losing campaigns from 2018-2020 but have found their footing this season, especially over the last three months. From July 17 to Oct. 2, Vancouver lost just once in 15 MLS matches before taking a 4-1 defeat at Seattle last Saturday.
Sartini has posted a 4-2-2 record as the interim boss, getting the most out of White and fellow attacker Cristian Dajome, who has eight goals and four assists of his own. Vancouver have also been strong defensively: prior to conceding four against Seattle last weekend, goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau and the Whitecaps went on a 337-minute shutout streak, the fifth-longest in MLS this season.
Vancouver has also improved in the area of protecting home soil, winning five of their last six at BC Place while outscoring opponents 12-4 during that stretch.
5. History Lesson
Recent history in the head-to-head series has favored Sporting, who are 5-0-1 in the last six regular season meetings and own wins in each of their last three trips to BC Place. During their six-game unbeaten run against the Whitecaps, Sporting have scored 20 goals and conceded only three.
The teams last met on May 16 at Children's Mercy Park when Salloi scored and Alan Pulido bagged a brace to spark a 3-0 home win. The most recent meeting at BC Place took place on Feb. 29, 2020, a few weeks before MLS paused due to COVID-19, as Sporting secured a 3-1 victory on opening day with goals from Pulido, Gadi Kinda and now-departed Erik Hurtado. It's worth noting that Pulido will miss Sunday's match through injury and is expected to return toward the end of the season.