The Vancouver Whitecaps return to the pitch this Saturday at 6:30pm in Sandy, Utah to face Real Salt Lake in the always difficult Rio Tinto Stadium. The ‘Caps will look to have a considerably better showing than their outing last weekend in San Jose where they were downed by the Earthquakes by score of 1-0.
The rival this week is Real Salt Lake, a team that continues to be undergoing an identity metamorphosis under head coach Jeff Cassar who is enjoying his second year at the helm. Cassar has started to draw away from the 4-4-2 diamond formation that became an RSL staple under former manager Jason Kreis. Instead, the current iteration of the Utah side lines up a 4-3-3 formation and has in 35 year-old, Javier Morales, the main spark and player who directs traffic in the middle of the park. Morales currently leads his team with 2 goals and 3 assists.
Real Salt Lake has been a top dweller in the West over the past few years and currently sits in 4th spot with a record of 2 wins, 0 losses and 3 draws. They are currently (along with New York Red Bulls) one of the two unbeaten teams in the 2015 season. More importantly, having played only five games so far this campaign, the Claret-and-Cobalt boys have two games in hand over the Whitecaps so it is imperative for the Blue and White to achieve a positive result over the weekend in order to keep RSL at bay in the standings.
There are several keys for the Whitecaps to take points from Utah in this game. The first one will be the ability of Matias Laba and Russell Teibert (yes, I am assuming Rusty will be back in the lineup) to shut down RSL Morales and limit both his impact on the game and the service that he can provide to RSL's dangerous forwards, including Alvaro Saborio. The Whitecaps have looked sloppy defensively over the last two games and that has cost them goals. It has been well documented that Pa Modou Kah has struggled and he was singled out last weekend as the weak link in Vancouver's defence so it will be interesting to see if Carl Robinson repeats the Waston-Kah tandem or if he brings Diego Rodriguez back to the pitch after missing (basically) the last four games due to suspensions and injuries. Regardless, it is essential for the Whitecaps' to tighten up their defense and minimize mistakes if they hope to come out of Utah with at least a point in their back pocket.
Finally, the Whitecaps' attack will need to be in top form if they want to score on a net tightly guarded by US international Nick Rimando. Octavio Rivero matched his longest scoring drought in 2015 with an unacceptable one game streak so he will be looking to snap out of that.
The Whitecaps are heading into this game without Chilean captain Pedro Morales after the Disciplinary Committee dismissed Vancouver's appeal over his ejection from last weekend's game in San Jose. Morales has not been stellar on the road since joining the Whitecaps in March 2014 so, on paper, his absence on the field shouldn't be devastating; however, it will be interesting to see who Carl Robinson taps on the shoulder to be his replacement.
All in all, this is an important game for the Whitecaps, especially after the result and performance from last Saturday. It will be a game that could potentially start to define the identity and expectations of this team for 2015.
If you want to listen our recap of the last game and our preview for this weekend, don't forget to check out the latest episode of From The Backline.