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Vancouver Whitecaps interim head coach Vanni Sartini called for his side to “step up” for the final stretch of the season as they prepare to host Sporting Kansas City.

The Caps are a point behind Minnesota United, who occupy the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, after an emphatic 4-1 loss against Seattle Sounders last time out ended their four-game unbeaten run.

However, the Canadians have also lost their last three games against Kansas City in Vancouver as Sartini implored his side to hit form when it matters.

“We need to step up,” Sartini said after defeat against the Rave Green. “We know next game is hard, maybe even harder than today against a great team like Kansas City.

“Then we have Portland, we have San Jose again. So we need to step up and try to do better, of course.

“We need to build on from this performance and try to be better against Kansas City. And of course, we’ll rewatch the game, we’ll rethink about it. From Tuesday we’ll go 100 percent on preparing the next game.”

The visitors trail Seattle by five points for top spot, with only six games of the regular season left to play.

Peter Vermes’ can, however, assure their place in the 2021 playoffs with a win or a draw at the weekend but the Kansas City manager’s focus has been on Felipe Hernandez, who has been suspended due to a violation of the league’s gambling rules.

“All along, they’ve been incredibly supportive,” Vermes said of his team’s reaction to Hernandez.

“In regards to myself and the rest of the staff, I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily trained for things like this. But everybody followed through in a really good way.

“We’re all human, we all make mistakes. … I believe he deserves a second chance and I would for sure give it to him.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Vancouver Whitecaps – Brian White

Brian White has provided able support to Cristian Dajome, scoring nine times in his last 10 appearances to propel the Caps up the table.

Sporting Kansas City – Johnny Russell

Johnny Russell has netted in five straight matches – the longest current streak in MLS and level with Preki for the longest scoring run in the club’s history.

KEY OPTA FACTS

·Sporting Kansas City is unbeaten in its last six regular season meetings with Vancouver (W5 D1) including winning the last three in a row. Sporting has a longer active regular season unbeaten run against just one team, having not lost any of its last 10 games against Toronto dating back to 2013.

·The Whitecaps have won five of their six home games since returning to BC Place in August, keeping a clean sheet in each of the last two. Vancouver last kept three straight home clean sheets in March-April 2016, a run that was broken by Sporting Kansas City.

·Sporting Kansas City has lost only one of its last eight away matches (W5 D2), including a 3-1 win in its last away match. Kansas City conceded four goals in its lone loss in that time while allowing three total goals in the other seven games.

·Brian White has scored the Whitecaps last six goals dating back to early September, including their lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Seattle on Saturday. White is the first player to score six consecutive goals for a team since Carlos Vela in 2019 (including playoffs).

·Johnny Russell has scored in his last five appearances for Sporting Kansas City, tied for the second-longest scoring streak in MLS this season (Ola Kamara – 6 straight). Russell is the second player in Sporting Kansas City history to score in five consecutive games for the club after Preki, who had two such streaks, in 1996-97.

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