The Vancouver Whitecaps travel to Utah this weekend, as they get set to take on Real Salt Lake in a big Western Conference battle, one that could have big implications on the playoff picture. Ahead of that one, here is our preview, as we look at how the ‘Caps are feeling ahead of their first regular season game against Western opposition since July.
While the win was nice, it’s now time to focus on backing it up.
After a strong victory over the Montreal Impact on Wednesday, the Vancouver Whitecaps will look to win back-to-back games for the first time since May of 2019 on Saturday, as they travel to Utah to take on Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto stadium.
Fresh off of winning 2 of 3 games at home as part of a mini 3-game homestand, the ‘Caps will feel confident heading into Salt Lake, a team whose form has been a little more turbulent as of late, having lost 2 of their last 3 games by a combined score of 8-0, with the win in between them being a 3-0 triumph over LAFC at home.
So for the ‘Caps, whose defensive play has also been up and down as of late, it’ll be paramount that they keep things on lock defensively in this one, as they look to pick up a big victory away from home.
They look really good defensively on Wednesday, doing well to limit the Impact’s chances in and around the box, so against an RSL team that can be dangerous once they’re in the box, they’ll look to repeat the same trick on Saturday.
“Well, I think in the last game played better defence as a whole team,” Whitecaps centre back, Ranko Veselinovic, said on Friday. “We were more aggressive in the offensive line and it’s easier for us in the backline when we have aggressive forwards and aggressive wingers, and I think that we generally played good defence as a team.”
“That’s important, because defence is not only the two fullbacks and the two centre backs, but the whole team has to play defence. And I think that we played very well in the last game and I think that we can play in a row with this kind of flow.”
On the other end of the pitch, the ‘Caps will want to continue their offensive resurgence, as they’ve scored 8 goals in their last 3 games, after going scoreless in the 4 games prior.
When they’re on their game, this ‘Caps team can score goals, so against RSL, who as mentioned earlier, have lost by scores of 5-0 and 4-0 as of late, they’ll want to keep showing some of that offensive prowess we’ve seen in recent games.
It won’t be easy, as when RSL are at their best, they can be really stingy, but they’ll certainly have a game plan to make sure they end up more like Minnesota and Colorado, winners of those high-scoring games, and less like LAFC, the aforementioned 3-0 losers.
“What we need to do is make sure that against a team like (Real) Salt Lake, that we’re very aware of them in transition,” ‘Caps head coach, Marc Dos Santos, said on Friday. “It’s a team that’s very dangerous in transition when they win the ball. And they’ve been able to go to the playoffs positions, and have been able to compete in this league always for a playoff spot and have reached the playoffs because of a clear way that they have identified to play with their team and in their club.”
“We’re going to have to be very good with that in dealing with that, and then are we exploit the spaces in (Real) Salt Lake, with our weapons, with the speed that we have up front, with the players that we have in our attacking third that could be important. It’s (also) a team that traditionally has been dangerous in attacking set pieces, by their delivery and their options, so we have to be very aware of that.”
And as Dos Santos later added, just because RSL lost heavily recently doesn’t mean they’re ripe for the picking, as some might suggest.
If anything, he thinks it’ll have the opposite effect, with RSL likely to come out extra hard to avenge themselves in front of their home fans.
“Also, it is a dangerous game,” Dos Santos added. “Because they just came out of a five-nothing loss at home, so they’re definitely going to want to answer in the right way, so we’re aware of that and we’re going to have to be ready. But I think we come from a good enough run in the last three games, where we got six points and where we want to keep building on that.”
But while the ‘Caps will have an eye on what RSL does Saturday, no doubt that their focus will be on their own game.
Chasing a result will be the goal, but the ‘Caps will also look to grow off of their victory on Wednesday, as they gave fans a good idea of what they can be as a club.
That’s not the first time they’ve done that this year, though, so they’ll look to show that they can grow off of that result and put together solid back-to-back performances, something they’ve struggled to do in 2020.
With Vancouver having the youngest roster in the league, finding that consistency will be huge, as it’ll allow Dos Santos’s young charges establish some footing and start to put the league on notice on a regular basis.
“Yeah, first you have to focus on playing the best, and having the best guys available on the team, on the field, all the time,” Dos Santos said of his team. “It is important the point you brought about Fredy (Montero), an example with Fredy or an example even with a guy like (Janio) Bikel, or Ali (Adnan) or (Lucas) Cavallini, is what the older guys could bring around a kid like Michael Baldisimo, who is 20, or a kid like Thomas Hasal, that is 21.”
“You look at our backline that played against Montreal, we had (Cristian) Gutierrez who is 23 years old, Derek (Cornelius) who is 21, Ranko (Veselinovic) who is 21, and our oldest defender was Jake (Nerwinski) who is younger (25 years of age), so you need to add elements in the team that can help these younger guys discover the ups and downs of a 90-minute game, so I think all of these guys are important in the roster to help in that.”
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Janio Bikel
After returning to the ‘Caps lineup for the game against Montreal, look for Bikel to build off of what was a solid first performance in midfield for him, after he did well to start off his ‘Caps career on the strong foot with a strong performance at right back in his debut back in March.
With those injury woes that plagued him in between that game in March and the game this week seemingly behind him, his minutes are slowly going to start going up, after he only played 45 minutes on Wednesday.
For a ‘Caps team that could use the ‘Destroy and Progress’ mentality that he brings to the midfield, having him get a run of minutes here will be huge, starting with this matchup against RSL.
RSL’s Jekyll and Hyde nature: It’ll be interesting to see which RSL comes out in this match, as they’ve been a very up-and-down team as of late, and it’s been quite extreme on both sides of the ledger.
If you’re the ‘Caps, you’re hoping it’s the RSL that lost 4-0 to Minnesota, or 5-0 to Colorado, but considering that they bounced back from that 4-0 loss with a big 3-0 win over LAFC, they’ll have to be wary of RSL coming out strong in front of their home fans on Saturday.
Cavallini’s return opens up questions: After serving a one-game suspension for a red card that he picked up last week in the first of two ‘Caps games against Montreal, Lucas Cavallini is available for selection Saturday, giving Dos Santos options up front.
Given that Fredy Montero made a triumphant return to the lineup in place of Cavallini, scoring 2 goals in that 3-1 victory over the Impact, it’ll be interesting to see what Dos Santos now does with his two strikers, as they both can bring a unique element to the Vancouver attack.
Will we see Montero stay in the lineup? Will Cavallini take his place? Will Dos Santos play them both?
We find out on Saturday.
All about defence: With that 3-1 win on Wednesday, the Whitecaps improved to 4W-2L-0D when they concede 2 or fewer goals, so they’ll want to make their defence a priority once again on Saturday, especially considering that they’ve got a 0W-5L-0D record when they allow 3 or more goals in 2020.
Against an RSL side who have scored 3 or more goals in 3 of their last 6 games, the ‘Caps will look to do a lot of what they did against Montreal this week, as they played some of the best defensive football that we’ve seen them play all year despite conceding a goal.
When we look at the advanced stats, this is an interesting matchup, as RSL is 8th out of 26 teams in MLS with 15.31 Expected Goals, with their 1.39 xG per game also placing them 8th in the league. The ‘Caps, on the other hand, are 20th with 12.64 xG, and are 22nd in xG per game with 1.15.
Defensively, RSL are 14th in xG against with 14.22, and 12th in xG against per game with 1.29 xGA, while the ‘Caps are dead-last in xG against with 22.01, and are also dead-last in xG against per game with 2.
Yet despite that, RSL is only 2 points ahead of the ‘Caps through 11 games, as the ‘Caps best xG games have typically been ones they won, whereas RSL’s games where they’ve scored goals have been games they’ve allowed a lot of goals, and vice versa, at least until this weird run from the last few games.
So in this one, it’ll be key to monitor A) which ‘Caps side shows up, as they’ve had games where they are even in the xG battle, and other games where they get absolutely battered and B), which RSL shows up, as their inconsistency has cost them a fair bit of points in the standings relative to where you’d expect them to be.
Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos
Regular Season Record: 4W-7L-0D (12 PTS)
Real Salt Lake:
Head Coach: Freddy Juarez
Regular Season Record: 3W-3L-5D (14 PTS)
Real Salt Lake 1-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 Real Salt Lake
All-in-all, it should be an interesting matchup Saturday between these two teams, for a multitude of reasons.
For RSL, it will be a good chance to redeem themselves on home soil after a tough loss to rivals Colorado last week, which is something they’re no doubt thinking of ahead of this one.
On the other side, it’s a big game for the ‘Caps, who will look to show some growth after a big victory in the midweek, in which they got a chance to show some revenge to rivals of their own, Montreal.
With the MLS playoff race being as tight as it is, it’s also a game that can have a huge impact on the standings, as a victory for either team could cause a pretty seismic shift on the table.
So with all of that in mind, stay tuned Saturday, as these two teams look to do battle in Utah in what’s hoped to be an entertaining game, at least if their recent form is to be any indication.
Up next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake, Saturday, September 19th, 2020, 18:30 PST (Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City)