Where: Rio Tinto Stadium. Sandy, Utah.
When: Friday, June 18th at 7 pm PST
How: TSN1 (TV); AM730 (Radio); ESPN+ (Internet)
Real Salt Lake:
Before writing this match preview I had a look at both team’s underlying data. It became immediately clear that both of them are pretty bad. RSL have only lost one game but this is largely a result of hugely outperforming their expected goals. RSL has scored some impressive long range bangers but overall they have not created a lot of high danger scoring chances. So although RSL has a better record than Vancouver, this is a very winnable game for the ‘Caps.
Real Salt Lake has scored nine goals so far. These goals have all been scored by three players; Damir Kreilach, Anderson Julio, and Rubio Rubin. All three are very dangerous but xG suggests their goal totals flatter them. Rubio Rubin’s numbers are especially conspicuous, he has four goals from just six shots on target. I can say confidently that he is not going to keep that up forever. Overall RSL’s attack is pretty quiet. They average just under 12 shots a game which is 19th out of 27 teams in MLS. They are second from bottom in xG so clearly the quality of those shots is pretty low.
Defensively RSL are slightly better. They give up a lot of shots, over 16 per game, but their expected goals against is 17th in MLS. So they are doing a good job of limiting the quality of those shots. Historically speaking the Whitecaps have struggled to break down defences that have sat deeper (or defences of any kind for the last 2.5 years). So RSL’s defensive style could provide some problems for an attack which has struggled to get the best out of the players it has.
Of course the biggest roadblock to the Whitecaps beating a bad team like RSL is that they themselves are pretty bad. Their attack is marginally better than RSL’s but their defence is slightly worse.
I am sick and tired of talking about a DP #10 that may or may not come. Even thinking the words “tradition #10” makes me want to walk into the ocean. But it remains immensely clear that the Whitecaps’ team is built around having a player of this type and that they can’t compensate without one. Pick any game the Whitecaps have played so far this season and look at the heat map. In each one there is a huge gap between the start of the opposition’s final 3rd and the opposition penalty box. The #10 role may be less common in the game but when you have a striker who struggles with link up play and midfielders who’s strengths lie in progressing the ball from deep areas you do kind of need someone to fill that role. The ‘Caps have added Brian White and hinted at some tactical tweaks but I doubt either of those things is likely to make a huge difference in short term.
White might get his first start for the ‘Caps with Lucas Cavallini being involved with the Canadian national team just a couple of days ago. If you want a deep dive you can find that here.
But the short version is that he’s basically a less strong version of Cavallini. That is to say, he is not very likely to succeed on the Whitecaps as they are currently constructed.
Other absences through injury are Bruno Gaspar and Tosaint Ricketts. Jake Nerwinski is also day to day with a knock. This likely means another start for rookie Javain Brown at right back. Brown has had two quite impressive appearances so far, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep that going.
Who’s Going to Win?
This game is likely to be tight and low event. The team that scores the first goal (if there are any goals) is probably going to win it. The stats suggest the Whitecaps are ever so slightly more likely to be the team that scores it. I also think the back four of Gutiérrez-Godoy-Veselinovic-Brown should be sturdy enough to hold off the threat that RSL provides. For those two reasons they are my pick to win. I do not feel good about this pick but I think it is marginally more likely than the other possible outcomes.
I just want to say for the record that the availability report on the MLS website is incredibly inaccurate. I learned Robin Lod wasn’t available for my fantasy team because I turned on the TV and he was playing in the EUROs. There is no mention of his being away on the MLS website. So i’m pretty sure the Whitecaps availabilities are correct but all the RSL ones might be made up for all I know.
- OUT: Ali Adnan (International Duty. Also unable to get a work Visa. Not for us to speculate why but I think we’re all thinking it.)
- OUT: Bruno Gaspar (knee irritation)
- OUT: Tosaint Ricketts (unspecified)
- QUESTIONABLE: Andy Rose (adductor strain)
- QUESTIONABLE: Jake Nerwinski (right knee tibiofibular sprain)
- OUT: Everton Luiz (undisclosed)
- OUT: David Ochoa (international duty)
Sam: 2-0 RSL
Caleb: 1-0 VAN
Andrew: 1-0 VAN
Luis: 2-0 VAN