"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.
Sporting Kansas City (2-2-1, 7 points) will play their third match in eight days when Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2-2-1, 7 points) visit Children’s Mercy Park for a Sunday afternoon showdown in the heartland.
The Western Conference clash will kick off at 1 p.m. CT with three hours of live coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. CT on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app.
As two teams with identical records look to bounce back from 1-0 road losses at midweek, we examine five compelling storylines surrounding the matchup in the space below.
1. Soccer For All
On Sunday, Sporting Kansas City will join a league-wide effort to foster more inclusive and equitable communities by celebrating Soccer For All, signifying that everyone is welcome to the club regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation or economic status. The initiative is directly tied to “A Force for Good,” a community campaign launched by Sporting that will see The Victory Project join community partners to meet crucial needs across the region and make the sport of soccer accessible to everyone.
At the forefront, Sporting will launch its new Pride top at all SportingStyle locations inside the stadium. The Victory Project will also welcome three local partners to the match in Variety KC, Special Olympics and Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City.
2. Carbon Copies
Sporting and Vancouver enter Sunday with identical 2-2-1 records and have opened the 2021 campaign in identical fashion. Just as Sporting won, tied, lost, won and lost in their first five matches, so too did the Whitecaps.
Led by Manager Peter Vermes, Sporting enjoyed the better of play against Houston Dynamo FC on Wednesday only to fall short in a 1-0 loss. The visitors outshot Houston 16-5 on the night, including a 14-2 advantage in the second half, but the Dynamo emerged victorious behind a 56th-minute goal from Maxi Urruti.
On the opposite touchline, third-year head coach Marc Dos Santos has guided Vancouver to impressive shutout home wins over the Portland Timbers and CF Montreal—despite the fact that the Whitecaps have been forced to operate out of Salt Lake City due to COVID-related travel restrictions in Canada. Like Sporting, Vancouver took a 1-0 road loss Wednesday in a tightly contested game against Minnesota United FC.
3. Conquering the Caps
Sporting has largely dominated the regular season series with Vancouver, posting a 10-3-4 record in 17 meetings and a 5-1-2 mark at Children’s Mercy Park. Since falling to the Whitecaps on Sept. 30, 2017, Sporting have gone 4-0-1 in the fixture with 17 goals scored and only three conceded. That run includes a 6-0 thumping in April 2018, highlighted by captain Johnny Russell’s hat trick, as well as a season-opening 3-1 away win in February 2020 that saw Gadi Kinda and Alan Pulido score on their MLS debuts.
Sporting and Vancouver also met in the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16 last July. Vermes’ side outshot Vancouver 36-8 but the match was ultimately decided in penalty kicks after a scoreless draw, with goalkeeper Tim Melia making two saves to propel Sporting to a 3-1 shootout win.
4. Know the Foe
The Whitecaps have missed the playoffs in three straight seasons but early returns in 2021 suggest the Canadian outfit is perfectly capable of bouncing back. Vancouver is one of just five MLS teams to average less than a goal conceded per game, boasting a 0.8 goals against average through five matches. On the attacking side, Cristian Dajome has a team-best three goals and center forward Lucas Cavallini leads MLS in both duels won and fouls suffered.
It should also be noted that Dos Santos was Sporting KC II’s first head coach in 2016, when the club was known as the Swope Park Rangers. In his lone season at the helm, Dos Santos led SKC II to a Western Conference title and an appearance in the USL Cup Final. He then steered the San Francisco Deltas to an NASL championship in 2017 and served as an LAFC assistant in 2018 before taking his current position with the Whitecaps in 2019.
5. One More at Limited Capacity
In accordance with updated health protocols issued by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, Sporting Kansas City announced earlier this week that home matches at Children’s Mercy Park will return to full capacity beginning May 29 when the club hosts Houston. Capacity for Sunday’s contest against Vancouver will remain limited to approximately 6,500 fans with current health and safety protocols in place.