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Know the Enemy: Real Salt Lake

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ final 2019 game against Real Salt Lake we caught up with Lucas Muller of RSL soapbox to find out more about the ‘Caps last opponent.

1. RSL have already clinched a playoff spot. Congratulations. How do you rate the team’s chances to win it all?

Real Salt Lake have had an odd season. They’ve done a good job of beating many of the teams they should beat, but have struggled to match many of their western conference rivals in LAFC, the Galaxy, the Timbers, San Jose, etc. It seems unlikely that they actually win MLS Cup this season. Their one and only MLS Cup came ten years ago. It would be incredible if they won it on the decade anniversary, especially given Nick Rimando’s retirement at the end of the season.

This iteration of RSL still doesn’t quite know its best attack, which is something that should’ve been settled months ago. In ’09, the team knew what it was about, but it’s still unclear what RSL is trying to accomplish with their style. The issue of how to best fit Albert Rusnak and Damir Kreilach onto the field has never really been solved. RSL has too much depth on the wings, and the midfield positions are locked down by a slowing Kyle Beckerman and an incredible Everton Luiz. This means Rusnak and Kreilach are often shoehorned into the attack in ways that leaves one of them out of position, with either Kreilach as a nine, or Rusnak as a winger.

The goal for the team is to get a home playoff spot. Their home record, like much of the league, is far better than their away form. As things stand now, RSL would have to go to LA to play the Galaxy, and should they win that game, would then need to beat LAFC in LA, something they did during last year’s playoffs. It’s a tall order, but this team is just enough of a wildcard that it could happen. But first, they need a result to get a home game.

2. How as the team responded to the sudden departure of Mike Petke?

The team has responded well. No player has come out to say anything overtly negative about Petke, but it’s become more and more clear that he was often a pretty volatile personality. The team went on a very good run once he was suspended, and have looked slightly improved since he was fired, though it hasn’t been an entirely drastic improvement. Interim head coach Freddy Juarez is very clear about the tactics he’s trying to employee, which is something the media never heard from Petke. We’re still seeing similar substitution patterns, meaning late subs and often not all three, but general things are improving. The biggest blow to the organization has been Petke’s lawsuit. In that complaint, Petke shared private conversations, including screenshots, between himself and former general manager Craig Waibel. Waibel has since been fired, as he made it pretty clear he feels many of the origination’s problems come from owner Dell Loy Hansen. It’s not surprising to see him gone, but he was certainly a valuable asset to the team.

3. Which RSL player should Whitecaps fans watch out for who might not be well known around the league?

Sam Johnson had a strong start to the season but has dropped off recently. The Liberian has 9 goals but hasn’t scored since August 14th and his dip in form puts a strain on the team. RSL’s most talented player is Jefferson Savarino. He’s a right winger who loves to dribble at defenders. I don’t think he likes to have the ball unless he’s trying to dance past two if not three opposition players, and he’s very good at it. His last minute goals have won RSL a number of games this season. He’s so much fun to watch, and when Bofo Saucedo is also on the field, those two combine so well together. In RSL’s last game, a 2-1 win over the Dynamo, the game winning goal came from a Bofo assist that Sava rocketed past the keeper.