Key Matchups: Sporting KC versus Vancouver

While soccer is and will always fundamentally be a team sport, fans and players alike prepare for individual matchups throughout the pitch as well.  It adds to the allure and drama of the sport while also serving as a means to highlight the tenacious defending that–outside of Italy and sometimes Germany–tends to go underappreciated, I think.

So what individual matchups can or should Sporting Kansas City fans look forward to in the upcoming game against the Vancouver Whitecaps (Saturday, March 12, 7:30 CT)?  Here are three possible contests to keep an eye on.

(For some more background on what to expect from the Caps, be sure to check out our scouting report of them.)

Kendall Waston versus Dom Dwyer

This is the one I am most looking forward to seeing, because if the 2015 matches between the two are any indication, we are likely in for a battle royale of Rousey-versus-Holm proportions.  Ever since Aurelien Collin got shipped off to Florida for the since-waived Jalil Anibaba and some Garber bucks, Dwyer has more than stepped up to the task of being Sporting’s cartoon-villain-in-residence, getting under the skin of players and fans alike.

But, to paraphrase FDR, Dwyer may be a pest, but he’s *our* pest.  He takes gobs of punishment every game for his team without hesitation, and his sheer strength allows him to stand up to the physically imposing center backs that inhabit MLS.

Like, say, Kendall Waston.  If Dwyer simply inhabits Collin’s cartoon villain role, Waston is in fact Vancouver’s own Aurelien Collin: a center back whose brash physicality and proclivity for yellow cards overshadows the fact that he is one of the best defenders in MLS (which Collin was/is capable of being during hot streaks).

Dwyer and Waston went at each other for a full 90 minutes the last time they were pitted against each other–July 12, 2015 (Waston sat out the dramatic 4-3 win Sporting KC notched the following month), and both walked away with yellow cards.  Expect them to be at each others’ throats this weekend.  I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if one or both of them emerged at the end with either a yellow card or a goal (especially given Waston’s dangerousness on set pieces—which Sporting gave up way too many of against Seattle).

Kekuta Manneh versus Seth Sinovic/Chance Myers/Amadou Dia

Vancouver’s newly-signed winger Christian Bolanos is suspended for the upcoming game as a result of the hard tackle he made on Montreal’s Laurent Ciman in the Caps’ 3-2 loss to the Impact on Sunday, but as I pointed out on Twitter, this isn’t much of a blessing for Sporting.

Expect Kekuta Manneh, who began last week’s match on the bench, to start in Bolanos’s place, and expect for him to bring the speed to whichever flank he starts on (although I could see him and Cristian Techera— who is no slouch in the pace department himself—swapping flanks throughout the game).

This is a problem for Sporting because at left back, neither Amadou Dia or Seth Sinovic are known for their pace, and Sinovic in particular has visibly struggled in the past when asked to mark speedy wingers like Dominic Oduro or Sanna Nyassi.  Chance Myers has more pace at right back, but he noticeably struggled to contain an out-of-position Clint Dempsey at times against Seattle, and Dempsey doesn’t have anywhere near the pace that Manneh and Techera have.

All that being said—this is real soccer, not a game of FIFA Ultimate Team, so pace isn’t the be-all, end-all.  But expect Nuno Andre Coelho (who has more than earned another start) and Matt Besler to have to test their wheels as they simultaneously try to contain Octavio Rivero and cover the incisive runs from Vancouver’s attacking midfielders.

David Ousted versus Tim Melia

The first two on this list dealt with outfield matchups, but between the sticks, you’ve got the reigning MLS Comeback Player of the Year versus an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year nominee who (I think) frankly should have won the award outright.

No disrespect to Luis Robles, who is a fine keeper, but Ousted didn’t get to benefit from the emergence of Matt Miazga. Miazga is currently sporting Chelsea blue across the pond in jolly old England, yet Ousted’s triple-slash lines of saves per 90 minutes/goals against per 90/save percentage were demonstrably better than Robles’s in 2015.  With Nick Rimando and a (when healthy) Bill Hamid, Ousted inhabits the upper echelon of MLS keepers.

Melia, meanwhile, is still working to inhabit more than the role of the plucky upstart that he seized by the proverbial horns following Luis Marin’s brief tenure in Kansas City, and thus far, early returns are good, as demonstrated by a few of his saves in the victory over the Sounders.

But the two also provide an interesting side-by-side juxtaposition in contrasting goalkeeping presences in the eighteen-yard box.  Ousted isn’t especially quick, but he makes full use of his 6’4” frame to command the box as well as to make sprawling fingertip saves.  Melia, at a shorter 6’1”, has to rely more on his athleticism than his wingspan in order to stamp his authority on the game.

Finally, Ousted made a terrible blunder on Montreal’s second goal in a game that was lost by one goal, and how he mentally prepares himself after such an uncharacteristically poor outing could go a long way in deciding the outcome of Sporting’s 2016 home opener.

Who are your key players to watch, and what matchups will you be keeping an eye on when our Sporks kick off against the Caps?  Leave a comment, and be sure to subscribe for all the latest on gameday.