Just three days after their meeting at Children's Mercy Park in MLS competition, Sporting Kansas City and Vancouver Whitecaps FC shift to CONCACAF Champions League play for an important Group C matchup at BC Place.
Vancouver took all three road points in their group-stage opener, beating Trinidadian side Central FC 1-0 on Aug. 2. A victory on Tuesday would put them firmly in control of the group, with six points after two matches and the other two sides on just one point each. A draw, however, would leave the Whitecaps still atop the group but the other two sides still within striking distance.
This match – the first in CCL play between the two sides – will be a depth test for both clubs, coming so quickly on the heels of Sporting's 2-0 victory on Saturday in Kansas City, Kan.
Sporting, who opened CCL play last week with a 2-2 away draw against Central FC, are winless in their last seven road outings across all competitions. With four goals in their last two away matches, scoring hasn't been the issue of late. Conceding, obviously, is another matter.
Vancouver's early CCL success, though, is the only sort of success the Whitecaps have managed lately. Since beating Central 1-0 to open the month – their only victory in any competition since mid-July – they've gone 0-3 in MLS play and now sit ninth in the Western Conference with 30 points.
The good news is that the six-through-nine field is tightly packed, with sixth-place Portland on 32 points, so a late surge could put Vancouver above the red line. Winning Tuesday wouldn't help them out on the league table, but any shot of success would be welcome right now at BC Place.
Who plays in Sporting's central defense?
Given Sporting's recent propensity to bleed goals on the road – seven in their last three matches across all competitions – that might be the most important question for the visitors to answer on Tuesday night, especially so close to Saturday's match. Manager Peter Vermes put Kevin Ellis alongside Amer Didic, a call-up from USL side Swope Park Rangers, against Central FC, but Ellis – who scored the equalizer in that match – also went 90 minutes on Saturday.
Ike Opara was not in the 18 in that match, after taking a knock in Sporting's 2-2 away draw to FC Dallas on Aug. 13. Nuno Coelho and Lawrence Olum are both healthy and rested, however, although Coelho did play the first half on Saturday in a defensive midfield spot before being subbed out. Vermes said Didic played well in his senior-side debut, so he will likely be in the mix to start on Tuesday as well.
Luck of the draw, or not
Sporting and the Whitecaps are the only two MLS teams to face off against each other in the current tournament's group stage – and yes, it's a Canadian thing.
The draw format prevents the four U.S.-based MLS sides and the four Liga MX sides from facing each other in group play – but because Canada's entry qualifies separately, through the Canadian Championship, the Whitecaps went into the mix with the other clubs from Central America and the Caribbean.