Sporting KC looks to take advantage of struggling Whitecaps squad

Sporting KC's Gerso Fernandes already has matched his season total of five goals that he scored last season with Portuguese first division club Belenenses.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City looks to continue its hot streak against struggling teams as it travels to Vancouver for a match with the Whitecaps on Saturday at BC Place.

Sporting KC (6-2-4, 22 points) sits atop the Western Conference table, three points clear of the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas. A 3-0 victory over Seattle on Wednesday was the first of eight consecutive matches against teams either at or below the red line.

Vancouver (4-5-1, 13 points) follows a four-game road trip by beginning a four-game homestand. The Whitecaps perilously occupy the sixth spot in the Western Conference with a trio of clubs two points behind.

Manager Peter Vermes’ squad seemingly has things in order, as it has paired a potent offense and a lock-down defense.

Three different players have recorded multi-goal performances in the last four games. Dom Dwyer and Latif Blessing have scored twice each, and Gerso Fernandes recorded the first hat trick for Sporting KC in seven years against Seattle. Fernandes already has matched his season total of five goals that he scored last season with Portuguese first division club Belenenses.

“When he came here (to Kansas City), I told him he was going to find himself in a lot of positions that he didn’t find himself in his old team,” Vermes said of Fernades. “(He will need to be) in front of the goal. He’s going to have to get the mentality to take those chances. I think he’s been getting accustomed to that pretty well.”

Anchored by center backs Matt Besler and Ike Opara, the defense has kept the pressure off goalkeeper Tim Melia. On the rare occasion that a shot does get on goal, Melia boasts the league’s best goals-against average (0.58) and clean sheets (seven).

“They’ve been a really good team to start out the year,” Vancouver defender Tim Parker said. “So I think we have to be ready for them. They score a lot of goals and they are hard to score against.”

Fredy Montero, a high-profile designated player acquisition who joined Vancouver in February, tops Vancouver’s scoring chart with four league goals. Brek Shea, Cristian Techera and Matias Laba have added two each in MLS for the Whitecaps.

Vancouver is in the lower half in goals in MLS with 13 in 10 games. The Whitecaps have allowed 16 goals, which puts them in the middle of the league’s 22 teams.

The injury list for Sporting Kansas City is short, but dramatic. In addition to striker Diego Rubio, who has been out all season with an ACL injury, Sporting faces the prospect of being without Dwyer. The forward is listed as questionable with a knee injury.

Vancouver, meanwhile, will be without six first-team players. Long-term absentees David Edgar (knee), Brett Levis (knee) and Yordy Reyna (foot) are joined by Christian Dean (foot), Erik Hurtado (foot) and Bernie Ibini (hamstring) on a lengthy injury list.