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Prep Talk: Sporting KC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC - July 12, 2015

Two weeks after the team's last MLS match, Sporting KC will take to the turf at BC Place on Sunday against Western Conference leaders Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The match will kick off at 8 p.m. CT live on KMCI-TV 38 the Spot in Kansas City and on SKCTV affiliates across the Midwest, with local radio coverage available on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish).
 
Ahead of #VANvSKC, we hear from Province sports reporter Marc Weber below with his thoughts from across the Canadian border...

How would you sum up Vancouver’s season up to this point?
Great on the road; so-so at home. They've certainly met or exceeded expectations overall, but they're going to have to get more wins at B.C. Place if they're going to stay atop the west.

What is the team’s form heading into Sunday’s match?
The Colorado loss was a disappointing way to end the road trip but I don't think that will be on their minds. They played five straight away and won three of them in tough places — L.A., New York and New England. They'll take confidence from that. Kekuta Manneh's been scoring, David Ousted's been excellent in goal and there's been good performances all around. They haven't missed Pedro Morales because Mauro Rosales has been so effective in that No. 10 role.
 
How will injuries and international duty affect the Whitecaps’ lineup vs Sporting KC?
Not much. Darren Mattocks has played well this year but with the Caps playing a one-striker system, it's not a big deal. They have Robert Earnshaw back from a calf injury for the K.C. game, and Erik Hurtado desperate for a chance if Octavio Rivero doesn't go 90. As for Russell Teibert, he's enjoyed a very good year for the Caps but, again, they have Gershon Koffie to slide into that second defensive mid spot along side Matias Laba, so they won't miss Teibert too much as long as Koffie performs. Morales's injury, as noted, hasn't been felt yet, although it's one less game-changer for sure. Pa-Modou Kah's injury does leave a question at centre-back but everything we've seen from rookie Tim Parker has been encouraging.
 
Vancouver’s been better on the road this season than at home (4-1-3 record, 11 goals conceded in 8 matches). What’s been the reason for their slow start at home this season?
A bit of bad luck, I think. And a bit of missed opportunity. You look right from the start of the season: they should have been up by two or three on Toronto at the half, then they paid for those misses. There's been some questionable red cards, too, and I think that luck will even out over the course of the season. But, they've also yet to show they can consistently break teams down at home if the visitor comes and sits back. This was an issue much of last season too. Can they find a way to unlock defences? They have the players now: Rivero, Cristian Techera. We've seen them do better at home against teams that come here to play (like L.A.). (It) will be interesting to see how adventurous K.C. gets.
 
Who will be the key players for Vancouver in this match?
The key for Vancouver in any home game is finding the right balance between trying to entertain their fans and sticking to that solid, sensible, strong road mentality they've built up away from B.C. Place. I don't really see any one player making or breaking things for the Caps. Right now, it's about: Can this team find the right balance at home to get results? That starts from the goalkeeper on out (the decisions David Ousted makes in distribution) and from the forwards on back (when to press and when to chill). As a group, they just haven't quite put it together at B.C. Place.
 
Both teams have won five of their last seven (in MLS play) matches. What are you expecting to see from the match?
I really don't know what to expect. Peter Vermes is a smart guy. K.C. will want to play but they'll also be very aware of how much better Vancouver is with space in behind to play into and how much more pressure there is on Vancouver to take the initiative. So, I think the first half will be a chess match. I don't think the Caps are going to come out and throw numbers forward looking for an early goal. They certainly respect K.C.'s weapons and the risk of losing this game early outweighs the need to win it early. They've just come off a Colorado game where they basically threw it away in the opening minute. I think this is your classic first-half chess match that will open up around the 65th-70th minute.
 
What are any match-ups, players, and anything else you’re looking forward to seeing from Sunday’s match?
The Caps staff have immense respect for Benny Feilhaber in midfield. Aside from Matias Laba, whom the coaches here really believe is the best midfielder in MLS, I think Feilhaber might be second on their list. So, those two will be fun to watch and the influence they have on the game in different ways.
 
What are your thoughts on the Western Conference this season and how things stand about halfway through the regular season?
Not too many surprises. RSL is lower than I thought, but most had San Jose, Houston and Colorado out of the playoff picture. The gap between first and sixth (five points) reflects what many of us thought — that this is a bloody close, competitive conference and it's going to be a dogfight for the playoffs. I think it's interesting that Seattle and Vancouver are top with seven losses. This just shows how useless ties are in a three-point league. Teams that go for it get rewarded and I like that. As many have stated, look out for L.A. in the second half of the season. (There's) no doubt in my mind they'll go on a run, probably win the west and probably win MLS Cup.
 
For me, the big, big question now (for the league as a whole) is how will the Vancouver's and the K.C.'s keep up with the big spenders? Can they? Will targeted allocation money allow them enough flexibility to make a move or two this summer and bolster their lineups? Will they even want to spend more? You know Seattle's going to be eyeing a move to keep pace with L.A. I love all the stars coming to MLS. I think the league needs it to be relevant beyond the hardcore fans — to boost TV ratings and sponsor interest — and I think the Gerrard's and Lampard's and Pirlo's still have terrific soccer in them despite their age. But if MLS starts to look like Europe, with only four or five teams truly in the running for the trophy, then we're going to have a problem.
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