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Preview: Hoping to Cap-italize on Real Dilemma

Exactly who comes out on top of the Real Salt Lake vs Vancouver Whitecaps match this weekend seems just as likely to be a function of who's not on the pitch Saturday as who is.

Can the Caps team up to seize the opportunity to get right back in the playoff race?
Can the Caps team up to seize the opportunity to get right back in the playoff race?

For a change, Vancouver's opponents come into town burdened with the kind of roster management nightmare that perhaps only Martin Rennie can appreciate. RSL coach Jason Kreis finds himself in a damned if you do scenario as he prepares his squad for two huge matches in the span of just three days.

The Claret and Cobalt, while not in quite as precarious a position as the Caps, still have cause for concern. With 48 points, they're currently in second place in the Western Conference, just two points behind leaders Seattle Sounders - but only three points separate them from 5th place Colorado Rapids, and the final playoff berth in the conference.

While Salt Lake can't really afford to take their eyes off the logjam behind them, there's the pesky little matter of their US Open Cup final match on Tuesday against DC United to consider. In the grand scheme of things, the Open Cup is the bigger prize, so what's Kreis to do?

Conjecture out of Salt Lake this week has Kreis resting, or at least not starting, a number of marquee players - including seven-time 2013 Save of the Week winner, keeper Nick Rimando, the oft-injured Alvaro Saborio (who's only started 12 games this season and is again coming off a game missed due to injury), Luis Gil, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, and Ned Grabavoy.

Adding to Kreis' woes, five RSL players are one caution away from suspension/fine, including: Morales, Beckerman, and Grabavoy.

Compounding Kreis' worries, Real are hardly on form right now. They're just 3-5-2 in their last 10, winless in their last five matches on the road, and have lost their last two in a row.

For his part, Martin Rennie likely won't have Kenny Miller (groin) at his disposal, as he re-aggravated the injury he sustained earlier this year after returning from international duty. Word has been quiet this week about the condition of CBs Johnny Leveron and  Andy O'Brien, though based on their play last weekend Jay DeMerit and Carlyle Mitchell appear to be locks for the back line. Fellow CB Brad Rusin (ankle sprain) is definitely out.

Miller's likely absence will certainly hurt the Caps - less for his scoring, which hasn't been terrible, but more for the fact that he constantly opens up the pitch for Camilo with his runs and positioning off the ball, stretching defenders in the process.

After defeating the Montreal Impact 3-0 on the road last weekend, Vancouver has returned home, where they've never lost to RSL.

As mentioned, personnel - or a dearth of it - may be key come Saturday. So too may set pieces. Salt Lake have scored almost 25% of their goals this season off set piece situations, an impressive amount. In contrast, last weekend, versus San Jose, Real yielded the full three points due to horrendous marking while defending a free kick situation. So victory for either side could very well hang on converting or defending set pieces. By comparison, of the Caps' tallies this season, 11% have come off set pieces.

I've learned that trying to predict Rennie's starting XI is a mug's game. But I'll give it a shot anyways: I think he'll revert to a 4-2-3-1 to try to stymie Salt Lake's possession-style of game.

XI: Ousted; Lee, Mitchell, DeMerit, Harvey; Koffie, Davidson, Manneh, Reo-Coker, Teibert, Camilo

A desperate home side takes on a stumbling and possibly unfocused visitor in this one.

Prediction: 1:1