Major League Soccer

Sporting Kansas City-Whitecaps FC Preview

Sporting Kansas City is hoping its massively disappointing 2019 season was nothing more than a fluke.

Aiming for a serious bounce-back in 2020, visiting Kansas City opens play on Saturday night against the overhauled Vancouver Whitecaps.

In 2018, Sporting Kansas City finished atop the Western Conference with 62 points and reached the semifinals. However, a rash of injuries and an overwhelming amount of frustration led to SKC finishing second-to-last in the West with just 38 points to see its eight-year playoff run come to an end.

"The pride was wounded a little bit," coach Peter Vermes told Sports Radio 810 about last season. "The question is how do you react to that? So far, the reaction has been very good."

That remains to be seen if things stay that way on the pitch. Vermes, though, thinks new additions like Mexican striker Alan Pulido - a former Liga MX Golden Boot winner - and returning veterans such as Felipe Gutierrez (12 goals in 2019) and Johnny Russell (nine goals) will mesh well.

"We have a great combination of those (new and old players), that we're hopefully going to get a lot out of it," added Vermes, who still needs to see an improved effort on the back-line after SKC conceded a whopping 67 goals in 2019.

The only club to finish worse than Sporting Kansas City in the West last season was Vancouver, four points back. The biggest issue for the Whitecaps was not preventing goals, but scoring them. Their 37 goals were among the fewest in the league, and they scored more than two in a game twice in 2019.

While Vancouver might have a budding star in 23-year-old Inbeom Hwang (three goals as an MLS rookie in 2019), the club made a relatively big splash by signing former Liga MX talent Lucas Cavallini. The Whitecaps also brought in Colombian winger Cristian Dajome and 22-year-old Leonardo Owusu as a couple of players who could provide an immediate impact out of the gate.

However, for the Whitecaps, it's about coming together as a collective to improve. A move the team will physically display as the players and coaches will walk into the stadium together on home matchdays, through the fans, and ready to compete.

"Having the right mentality starts from the time we arrive at the stadium," Vancouver sporting director Axel Schuster told the club's official website. "We will come to stadium together, united as a team and with our fans. And, we will bring that same mentality on the pitch."

Vancouver, though, would like a different result against SKC to end an 0-3-1 stretch in this series. After the teams played to a 1-1 draw at Kansas City - thanks to Derek Cornelius' equalizer for the Whitecaps in the 94th minute - on May 18, SKC won 3-0 at Vancouver in July.

Updated February 27, 2020