‘I think we’re better’: Sporting KC’s Salloi strikes bold tone ahead of Vancouver game

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I think Vancouver is a good team, but I think we’re better.

So went Sporting KC winger Daniel Salloi’s bold assessment of the Vancouver Whitecaps on Friday, two days ahead of Sunday night’s showdown at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Looking at the Major League Soccer standings, Salloi’s right. But that doesn’t mean Sporting KC will underestimate this opponent.

The Whitecaps endured a horrid start this season, and at one were point seemingly anchored to the bottom of the Western Conference standings. They reeled off an eight-game undefeated streak before a stunning August loss to Pacific FC in the preliminary round of the Canadian Championship tournament cost head coach Marc Dos Santos his job.

Since then, the Whitecaps have competed under the interim leadership of coach Vanni Sartini — and Sartini, their former director of methodology, has orchestrated a serious resurgence. Vancouver is 4-2-2 since Dos Santos’ ouster, with those two losses against stalwart regional rivals Seattle and Portland.

“You can see there is a definite jump in their step as a team, playing with a lot of energy and intensity in the game,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “I’ve always said that I think they have a very good roster.”

Because of that eight-game undefeated streak Vancouver had going before Dos Santos’ ouster, it’s probably off-base to say Vancouver is benefiting from the “new manager bounce” that teams sometimes enjoy after a changing of the guard. Then again, the Whitecaps haven’t exactly suffered under Sartini.

“There’s something (new) that’s brought to the team, and the team can really feed off of that,” Vermes said generally of coaching changes. “It always comes down to the individual person.”

Speaking specifically of Sartini, whom he knows through the U.S. Soccer education program, Vermes was certainly complimentary.

“He’s a real likable guy,” Vermes said. “He knows a lot about the game, and you can see the players are grasping what he’s asking. And they’re playing with a high level of intensity for him.”

Sporting KC is still seeking its first win on the heels of an international break this season. This particular fixture against Vancouver comes after a two-week MLS break for FIFA World Cup qualifying.

Salloi cares little about any of that. Sporting KC’s big-time scorer is not a big fan of the negativity such factoids frequently generate.

“I do not remember stats like that, and that’s the reason for it,” he said. “I don’t know, we’re going there to win and we will.”

Perhaps, but Sporting KC faces a hungry Vancouver squad that’s suddenly in the hunt for its first playoff berth since 2017. Last year, the Whitecaps missed the postseason by a mere three points. With six games left, Vancouver sits one point behind Minnesota for the seventh and final playoff berth, just two points back of fifth-place Real Salt Lake.

One final, more technical note: The Whitecaps boast one of the best records in the league of late in part because Sartini supplanted Dos Santos’ loose 4-3-3 setup with a tighter 3-4-1-2. Their back three morph into a back five with two wingbacks on defense, similar to what Sporting KC saw in the second half against FC Dallas on Sept. 29.

In that game, Salloi and fellow winger Johnny Russell exploited space behind the opposing wingbacks, drifting inside to occupy pockets between the midfield and defense.

Remember that tactic, because it could come into play Sunday night in Canada.

“We just need to analyze them a little bit and prepare ourselves,” Salloi said. “But as I said, we are going there to win, so we will use everything we can to get three points here.”

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