RSL Soapbox: Is this game a must-win for Vancouver in order to make the MLS Playoffs? When does it become a must-win situation for Vancouver?
86 Forever: It's been a must-win situation for a couple of weeks now. The Whitecaps started the season so well, many were hoping they would be able to avoid yet another late season collapse. However, it looks like that is exactly what's going to happen; the Whitecaps can't score goals, and that means they're struggling on a consistent basis. In fact, many believe that after another embarrassing 3-0 loss to the Portland Timbers, the playoffs are merely a pipe dream. We conducted a poll on 86forever asking readers if they still believed the Whitecaps could make the post-season, and 77 out of the 106 (as of Tues night) said they either didn't believe, or they had lost faith already. This is a fragile group lead by a young core that's experiencing some pretty severe growing pains at the moment. If the 'Caps are to make any kind of noise during this final stretch, they're going to need players like Darren Mattocks, Erik Hurtado and Kekuta Manneh to step and do what they're paid to do; score freaking goals. The playoffs are still a possibility points wise, but it's going to take a massive turnaround offensively.
RSL Soapbox: What is the Whitecaps' biggest strength and weakness?
86 Forever: The Whitecaps have a very creative midfield lead by two talented players, Captain Pedro Morales and MLS veteran Mauro Rosales. When the Whitecaps were flying high earlier this season, there were even rumblings that Morales should be in the running for league MVP. Now, as the season has worn on and the Whitecaps have begun falling behind, Morales hasn't been as simply amazing as before, but he's got good reason. As already stated, this strikers on this squad cannot score goals, even with the impressive pair feeding them the ball. It is by far their biggest weakness, as they've been held scoreless in 5 of their last 7 matches, and that includes two losses to the team directly above them in the standings, the Portland Timbers. I'll give you an example here; the club cut ties with veteran striker Kenny Miller in May, and he's still tied for 4th on the team in goals, with 3.
RSL Soapbox: Where do you think Real Salt Lake has the biggest advantage in this match up and who do you think is RSL's best player?
86 Forever: I think RSL has a potent attack, and with the Whitecaps reeling, they could do some damage in the match. I look at Joao Plata and his 13 goals, and Javier Morales and his own impressive stat line, and I think the Whitecaps are clearly over-matched in the attacking category. I like the Whitecaps backline, but they looked mighty average against the Timbers. The key for RSL is scoring early, since the Whitecaps are struggling to score, and they haven't been adept at coming back from deficits either. A recent MLSsoccer.com article pointed out the 'Caps have just one comeback win under their belt for the entire season.
*Questions for RSL Soapbox*
86 Forever: Tell me about that 5-1 beatdown of the Rapids last week. A one time thing, or should the Whitecaps be worried?
RSL Soapbox: I think it is safe to say that the Rapids are struggling. This isn't the first beatdown that they have suffered this season. Recently, they lost to the Galaxy 6-0. That is not to say that Real Salt Lake did not play well. They looked very dangerous and very well could have scored seven goals in that match if not for a miraculous save or two. RSL has not had this strong of a forward corps this year, and possibly ever. They truly have five legitimate starting forwards on their roster that all have varying skill sets that are valuable in different scenarios. With Joao Plata having a fantastic season, Alvaro Saborio back, Sebastian Jaime being brought in as a designated player, and two very athletic options in Robbie Findley and Olmes Garcia, Cassar is probably struggling to figure out who should start up front.
86 Forever: How has the emergence of Joao Plata changed this teams attack?
RSL Soapbox: Plata has an incredibly efficient goal per shot rate at just under 30 percent, so for every three shots he takes he gets a goal. To me, he is the smartest player on the team when it comes to taking good shots. He is also incredibly skilled on the ball and very speedy. He will also surprise you with how he scores his goals. For example, two of his 13 goals are headers. And that is from the shortest player in the league. So it goes without saying that he is creative and knows just when and where to be to put the ball in the net. Over the past few seasons, RSL really depended on Alvaro Saborio to score. Now there are two very consistent scoring threats with Plata's emergence.
86 Forever: Is RSL focused on making a run up the standings, or cementing 3rd place?
RSL Soapbox: I'm not sure that anyone from RSL would say this publicly, but I think they care a bit more about cementing 3rd place rather than moving up in the standings. Sure, moving higher in the standings would increase the possibilities of a CONCACAF Champions League birth, but there are other ways of getting there as well. I'm not convinced (and I don't think RSL is either) that being in first or second place in your conference increases your chances of winning MLS Cup. It is more important to skip the wildcard game and get that much needed rest as well as to avoid the unnecessary travel. At the end of the day, if there is a possibility to go for the Supporters' Shield, they will surely gun for it.
Score prediction from RSL Soapbox: RSL 1, Vancouver 1