First place on the line as Sporting KC hosts Whitecaps

Tim Melia is second in MLS with 10 clean sheets this season.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The top spot in the Western Conference table is on the line as the first-place Vancouver Whitecaps travel to play Sporting Kansas City Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park.

Sporting KC is in a three-way tie for second place with the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders.

Vancouver (14-10-6, 48 points) stands a point above the trio, although Sporting KC (12-6-11, 47 points) has two games in hand with Portland and Seattle, compared to one with the Whitecaps.

Vancouver has made a steady charge up the table after starting the season 2-4-1, and they took over the top spot in the Western Conference in mid-September with a win over Minnesota in the second of four straight home matches. But the Whitecaps missed a chance to put some space between themselves and the nearest competition when they fell 3-0 in Seattle on Wednesday night, ending a seven-match unbeaten streak.

“We’re top of the table with four games to go,” Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson said following Wednesday’s match. “Not many people would have said that would have happened, but it is happening. We’ve lost an unbeaten run, now we have to start a new run. It’s about how you bounce back.”

Now the Whitecaps have to venture to Children’s Mercy Park to try to accomplish something no other MLS club has been able to do since May 2016, and that’s defeat Sporting KC at home. Sporting KC now has gone 24 straight MLS matches without a loss in front of the home fans.

SKC continues to rely on defense, as it has all season. The 23 goals allowed (0.79 goals-against average) is best in MLS by a full 10 goals (Toronto FC). Tim Melia is second in MLS with 10 clean sheets.

Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes knows his squad will have its hands full in trying to keep that streak going.

“I would say right now they’re probably the hottest team in MLS,” he said of Vancouver. “Being on top is obviously a place they deserve right now. We realize that them coming in this week is going to be a big game.

“They’re a very dynamic team. They’ve always had very dynamic players. Adding (forward Fredy) Montero is a big player for them. I’ve always liked him. He’s really come into his own. They’re just a very explosive team. They’re very good defensively, very good on set-pieces, and they can counter you with some incredible speed.”

Sporting has a chance to clinch a club-record seventh straight playoff berth with a victory and some help. If Vancouver stops SKC’s home-field streak, the Whitecaps clinch a spot in the playoffs.