The Caps are (almost) home but first they must stop to take care of some business in the Rocky Mountain region, clashing with Real Salt Lake on Saturday at America First Field.
An off-form night ended Vancouver’s unbeaten road trip unceremoniously in Houston but the terrain in Salt Lake City will be more favorable. While the Dynamo have been in scorching hot form since the Leagues Cup break, Real Salt Lake have been headed in the opposite direction.
In the wake of acquiring Chicho Arango in the summer transfer period, Real looked like they were poised to enter the Western Conference elite. A surprising start (beginning at BC Place on opening day) showed Pablo Mastroeni’s tactical acumen and his ability to get the most out of a mix of talented youngsters, cast off parts that didn’t fit with other teams and the creative Pablo Ruiz.
Well, that was all well and good until Ruiz went down with a knee injury during Leagues Cup and was ruled out for the season. Since then, they’ve been struggling to figure out a way to cope, losing all but one game since the Leagues Cup break (a 2-0 win against lowly Colorado).
Arango has been solid since returning to MLS, with five goals to his name and has scored in each of his last four appearances.
Real’s style of play mesh will with the big forward, as they prefer long balls into wide overloads, swinging in crosses to find one of their main goalscoring threats, either Arango or longtime Caps nemesis Damir Kreilach. Jefferson Savarino also likes to join the party and is RSL’s top scorer at the moment. Their other main forward, Danny Musovski. He’s training with the kids.
RSL’s tactical setup asks a lot of a defense but the Caps have generally but alright at limiting the damage from wide areas this year. A well rested Ranko Veselinovic will return to the lineup to help guard against a repeat of the defensive struggles the Caps experienced against the free flowing Dynamo.
Given that Vanni Sartini gave Ryan Raposo a run out in the midweek, one wonders if this will mark Sam Adekugbe’s return to the lineup after an injury. Andres Cubas also only went 45 minutes in the midweek, possibly ramping up to a full return against RSL. If he can’t go, the Caps could be in a bit of a bother, as Sebastian Berhalter picked up his fifth yellow card on Wednesday and will be suspended.
And then there will be the question of what to do with Junior Hoilett, who looked good in the midweek but will likely see his minutes managed as he eases into life in Vancouver.
The Caps clearly looked tired on Wednesday and the road trip appears to be taking its toll. That being said, this is a big match: Vancouver have a game in hand on RSL but only are one point clear of them in the table. In the jam packed Western Conference, this is a true six pointer.
I’m cautiously optimistic that Sartini will get the team to rally after their midweek setback. Other teams have laid out a pretty good blueprint for beating RSL recently and the Caps have the personnel to follow it. If Ryan Gauld and the backline bounce back following an off night, I think this is a 2-1 victory for the Caps.