Fresh off a statement win on the road, the Vancouver Whitecaps felt confident it could be done again. However, a 3-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park will bring questions of maturity back to the forefront.

That was a point that Ryan Raposo made after the match. He said it was a lesson he hoped the team would learn from.

“I think we have to show more maturity as a team to accept that, okay, they score a goal, but there’s lots of time left. It just felt…like a punch. And I think we have to react better going forward if we want to be a top team in the league,” Raposo said.

Bringing back the Christmas Tree formation, Vanni Sartini set up his side to be counter-attacking. Sporting KC brings a different setup and a different pedigree of players than the Whitecaps’ last opponent, LAFC, and the change was understandable.

And throughout the first 30 minutes, the head coach could be reasonably content with his visiting side. The Whitecaps had a number of dangerous runs into the box, set pieces and direct play.

But SKC was patient. And in the 33rd minute, that patience paid off. 

Rémi Walter found space behind Mathías Laborda at the edge of the 18-yard box. It was a quick tap forward, pushing beyond Martins who was caught ball-watching. Walter’s chipped the ball over Yohie Takaoka for Sporting KC’s first on the night and the first for the player of the year.

From that point, it was all SKC to the half. The Whitecaps were pushed back into their half of the pitch and were forced to absorb wave after wave of the home side’s offensive push.

“I think it’s a perfect picture of who we are,” Sartini said. “If we follow the plan, if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, if we work for the team, we’re going to play well. And the first 30 minutes were okay actually. If we then go away from the plan and we try to solve the situation by ourselves individually, we’re lost.”

And they were able to capitalize on it. In stoppage time of the first half, SKC doubled their lead through Alan Pulido. The Mexican was the last man on the ball as it came across the face of the Whitecaps’ goal, getting past defender and attacker alike. 

Pulido’s eighth goal of the year meant that Sartini’s halftime talk would need to breathe life and belief back into his players.

The second half saw Sebastian Berhalter come in for Andrés Cubas and a switch to a 4-4-2. There was an attempt to push through the flanks of Ryan Gauld and Pedro Vite, the more creative players on the pitch.

Yet, it was SKC who scored again in the 53rd minute. Takaoka was caught flat-footed as a ball came across his net. He dived to try and palm it away as far as he could, but it never left the 18-yard box. Erik Thommy, another sub at the half, stepped into the ball and drilled over the prone Whitecaps’ goalkeeper for the third goal of the game.

Further substitutions of Déiber Caicedo and Levonte Johnson (his first minutes as a senior player) could break the line of Sporting KC. The match, the first in nine for the Whitecaps without a goal, was one they would hope is an aberration and not a harbinger of their immediate future.

One bright spot was the play of Raposo. Underrated and often overlooked this season, the Canadian full-back caused trouble for Sporting KC on the right side of the pitch and helped to keep service from the home side to a minimum.

“We know that Ryan [Raposo] is an important player, and we know that he’s learning this new position as a fullback,” Sartini said. “We know that probably he’s more of a natural wingback, but when we played him as a fullback, he always responds quite well.”

Next up, the Whitecaps return to B.C. Place to play the Seattle Sounders for another Cascadia game. It’s the beginning of a four-game home stretch, which will be interrupted by the Leagues Cup.

It precedes a long stretch away from home of seven matches.

“Historically, we’re doing very well every time that we have a home stand. So, we know that we are a very good team. But at home, we’re a very, very good team normally.”

The midseason break for the Leagues Cup will come after the LA Galaxy match on July 15 at B.C. Place. MLS action for the Whitecaps will resume on August 20 against Austin FC.