After earning a hard fought road point, Real Salt Lake returns to the friendly confines of Rio Tinto. Remaining one of the two undefeated clubs, RSL will look to use their defensive juggernaut to overcome the number one ranked club in the league, the Vancouver Whitecaps. This will be the first of a three match series between the two sides in 2015 and, if the last match is any indication, tempers could flair.
The Claret-and-Cobalt and the Whitecaps last met at BC Palace in September of 2014. As part of a recurring story of last year's campaign, Jeff Attinella came up big for RSL when he stopped a penalty kick just before going into the intermission. The clubs were tied 0-0 at halftime but the stalemate wouldn't last long. After taking the lead off a headed goal by Nat Borchers in the 57th minute, RSL conceded twice to Whitecaps Captain and newcomer Pedro Morales. The home side's first goal came off yet another penalty call before Pedro Morales found himself inside the six yard box and tucked away the winning goal. Despite pressing for the equalizer, RSL lost to the home side 2-1.
About the Clubs
Just squeaking into the postseason last year, the Whitecaps decided to retool instead of rebuild in 2015. Vancouver's defense was gutted last year with the retirement of Jay DeMerit and the subsequent departure of Andy O'Brien. So, in the offseason, the Whitecaps secured Pa Modou Kah off the waiver list to shore up their defense. It has yet to pay dividends, as of yet, since Vancouver has already conceded seven goals in as many matches.
The Whitecaps started off the season hot going 4-1-0 but since the squad as somewhat stagnated going win-less in their double-game week. After settling for a 2-2 draw at home, the Whitecaps not only suffered a defeat but were also shutout for the first time this year by the San Jose Earthquakes. Even more significant to both Vancouver and RSL this match will be the suspension of Pedro Morales after receiving a red card for kicking Adam Jahn in the groin last match.
Predicted Vancouver Whitecaps Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Ousted; Beitashour, Waston, Kah, Adekugbe; Teibert, Laba; Rosales, Mezquida, Manneh; Rivero.
Real Salt Lake
Keeping a clean sheet last week will be a huge boost to the Claret-and-Cobalt who have now played 17 different starters since the beginning of the season. The depth is holding steady for Jeff Cassar and his staff. Still, the offense has yet to find their footing. The majority of RSL's offense has come through Javier Morales, while this is not necessarily a bad thing, the club cannot rely on the 35 year old to continue to lead the club in goals.
The injury bug continues to grow for the Claret-and-Cobalt with skipper Kyle Beckerman picking up some sort of left leg injury last night against Mexico - almost certainly making him miss this match even if only as a precaution. Now the home side will be out three or four starters, depending on how you look at it - both Chris Schuler and Demar Phillips remain questionable for this match. Therefore, openings in the starting XI will give reserve players valuable playing minutes to showcase their talents. However, these players will have to remain sharp if RSL is to have a good night against Vancouver.
Players to Watch
Vancouver Whitecaps - Mauro Rosales
The Whitecaps lead the lead in goals (9), shots (99) and shots on target (37), however, the Canadian side was unable to muster even a single shot on target against the Quakes. To make matters even worse, the aforementioned suspension of Pedro Morales threatens to unhinge the Whitecaps offense even more. Enter Mauro Rosales. The creative midfielder is back from injury after missing five weeks. He will look to get his season started and be involved in the attack. The only question now is whether the injury has hurt his form or improved his stamina for this match in Rio Tinto?
Real Salt Lake - Alvaro Saborio
Registering seven shot, Saborio will be RSL's player to keep an eye on. The all-time leading goal scorer at the club has only managed a single shot on target this year. That is not to say that this attacker is not getting involved in the attack - he has accumulated seven off-sides in that respect - but he has not been given the service. The Costa Rican veteran will look to start producing with the influence of Javier Morales and the improved play along the wings. If RSL is to find success against Vancouver, Sabo and the service to him will be pivotal.
Key to the Match
The Vancouver Whitecaps will have to do a couple of things if they hope to grind out a result at Rio Tinto. The first is to contain the maestro (Javier Morales). This job will likely fall to Matias Laba - Vancouvers defensive midfielder. It will be vital for Vancouver to stop Morales from getting in behind Laba and cutting apart the defense. The second, the Whitecaps must be mindful of "second-tier" players on the pitch for RSL. While they are often considered less of a threat than regular starting XI players, they can bring their own bag of tricks. As they have been seen less on the pitch, they often bring different strengths to the match then watching opponent tapes would show. Therefore, Vancouver must be mindful as they have not been the best at adapting and changing to extenuating circumstances.
Real Salt Lake
The best way for the Claret-and-Cobalt to get a result on Saturday will center around how the squad exploits positions on the other side of the pitch. The first being able to isolate the opposing number ten from the rest of the squad. Whether that be Rosales or Nicolas Mezquida, keeping them on an island will be essential in stopping the Vancouver attack. Second, look to the RSL wingers to exploit the Whitecaps wingers - especially on the left side as Carl Robinson has favored less experienced Sam Adekugbe to veteran Jordan Harvey. Getting in behind the fullbacks will be essential in getting Saborio the service he needs in the box.
Catch the match Saturday March 18 at Rio Tinto or on KMYU at 7:30 p.m. MDT.
We'd like to know what you think. Do you think that there is anything we missed? Are there aspects of this match that we overlooked? What do you think this match means to Real Salt Lake? Will RSL's attack finally begin to click? Can Vancouver find a strong replacement from Pedro Morales? Share your opinions in the comments section below.