VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps will shuffle the deck in hopes of dealing themselves a winning hand for their game against Sporting Kansas City Friday.
Head coach Carl Robinson took the blame for his team’s lethargic performance in a 2-0 Major League Soccer loss last week at home against Los Angeles Football Club. When star striker Kei Kamara suffered an injury in the final minutes of training the day before the game, Robinson was forced to make some lineup changes, including starting Erik Hurtado in Kamara’s place.
"Obviously in 24 hours you have to change your game plan, which we did," Robinson said after a practice this week. "It affected the group a little more than I wanted it too.
"Because they (LAFC) played three centrebacks they were able to squash us a little bit and force us backwards. We were unable to get up the field with our wide players. It will be different this week."
The Whitecaps (3-3-1) hope to have striker Anthony Blondell in the lineup when they face Sporting Kansas City (4-1-2) at Children’s Mercy Park. Blondell missed last week’s game recovering from a concussion suffered in an April 7 loss against Real Salt Lake.
Blondell doesn’t have the proven pedigree of the 33-year-old Kamara, but he does have potential. The 23-year-old led the Venezuelan Primera Division with 24 goals last year and had six assists in 39 appearances. Eight of his goals were game winners.
Blondell has played about 102 minutes for the Whitecaps in five games this season and managed one shot on goal.
"He’s an exciting young player," said Robinson. "He is very raw. He scored a lot of goals in Venezuela. He’s a very energetic.
"Now he’s got the opportunity, if he plays, to have a run of games. It’s important we put players around him that will help him be successful as well."
With Karama sidelined for at least the next three games with a groin injury, Whitecap players like defender Jake Nerwinski are excited to see Blondell perform.
"He’s going to come in, he’s going to try to do that same role, be the same guy Kei has been for us," said Nerwinski. "We think he can be.
"Anthony is a big, strong guy. He can hold the ball up, he has shown that in training. He likes to shoot."
Besides Blondell, the Whitecaps will look for some offence from forward Brek Shea. The lanky Texan has scored three goals this year, all on the road. Six of his seven goals for the Whitecaps in MLS play have come on the road, including four as a substitute.
Sporting KC leads the Western Conference with 14 points and are unbeaten in six matches. Kansas City leads the West with 14 goals scored but has allowed 11, the same amount as Vancouver.
Midfielder Felipe Gutierrez is one of MLS’s leading scorers with five goals while forward Daniel Salloi has three assists.
Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said his steam can’t afford to make any mistakes against an opportunistic Vancouver side.
"They are really quick on the counter," Vermes told the Sporting KC website. "They are a very aggressive team going forward. If you’re not good with the ball, that" where you can get exposed big time.
"What is important for us, we have to be good with the ball. We can’t give up the ball in critical areas of the field. If we do they have a lot of pace, a lot of power on their team that is hungry to get the goal quickly."
Vancouver (3-3-1) is third in the West. The Whitecaps’ 10 points leaves them tied with the L.A. Galaxy, who have played one less game.
The Whitecaps offence looked very pedestrian and didn’t generate much excitement against LAFC. Frustrated fans booed the home team after the game.
"I think it was fair," said goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic. "The fans didn’t get what they deserved. Even if we play at 95 per cent I don’t think that’s good enough."
The loss against LAFC was the first time in 40 MLS games where the Whitecaps lost back-to-back matches.
Nerwinski said the team isn’t happy with the recent results but there is no sense of alarm in the dressing room.
"There is no panic," he said. "It just didn’t go our way that game.
"We were upset how we played. We want to make the fans happy. We are going to come back out and hopefully get some road points."