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Real Salt Lake vs. Vancouver Whitecaps preview: Enter the era of Petke

New RSL head coach Mike Petke will see his first game in charge when the Whitecaps visit Rio Tinto Stadium this weekend.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

After a less-than-stellar start to the season, Real Salt Lake will look to put their demons behind them and forge ahead into the era of new head coach Mike Petke this weekend as they play host to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Bottom of the barrel

For the first time in recent history, RSL (0-3-2, 2 points) sits dead last not only in the Western Conference, but in the overall league table as well. Last week’s 4-2 loss to Minnesota United sank them to the bottom and put their goal differential at minus five.

The good news? There’s only one way to go from here.

DC United v New York Red Bulls Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

In the west, it’s still relatively close at the bottom. With a big win this weekend, RSL could theoretically see themselves jump up to as high as sixth place, as that’s where Seattle sits with only five points. With 29 games to play and a brand new coach at the helm, things have the potential to start looking up very quickly for the claret-and-cobalt.

Vancouver (1-1-1, 4 points) is coming off a gut-wrenching loss to Liga MX side Tigres UANL in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday, as both they and FC Dallas were knocked out of the tournament in the semi-final round this week. Currently sitting in eighth place in the west, the Whitecaps will now travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to try and shift the focus back to MLS play, which might prove to be difficult.

We all remember RSL’s historical run to the CCL final in 2011, and how heartbreaking it was after they lost to Monterrey. RSL quickly fell into a classic “CCL hangover” slump which saw them win only two of their next eight matches.

Whether this same thing will happen to Vancouver or not remains to be seen, but if Real Salt Lake is going to turn a new leaf and return to its winning ways, this weekend would be the ideal time to start making that happen.

Match history

In the all-time series, the Whitecaps hold the cards with seven wins to RSL’s five, while both teams have four draws in regular season play. Vancouver also holds a favorable edge in the goals category, outscoring RSL 21-15 overall.

RSL has only won one of the last five meetings, while the Whitecaps have won the other four.

The last meeting between these two clubs came on July 14, 2016 when Vancouver hosted a short-handed RSL, who was only able to bring 16 players on the trip. As a result, the ‘Caps beat the visitors by a score of 2-0. The two goals came within three minutes of each other, by way of a Justen Glad own goal in the 34th minute, then followed up by a world-class strike from Cristian Techera.

Key players and personnel

While both teams are off to sub-par starts, they both have the potential to turn a corner at any moment. Both teams have a clear leading scorer with two goals each — Yura Movsisyan for RSL and Matias Laba on the Vancouver side. However, Vancouver has scored six goals overall to Salt Lake’s three, with four of those six coming from different players.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

After a big trade that surprised the MLS world last week, Vancouver has acquired longtime Columbus Crew midfielder Tony Tchani while sending speedster Kekuta Manneh packing to the Buckeye state. Tchani has made two appearances for the Canadian side so far — subbing in for 27 minutes in their 4-2 win over the LA Galaxy last week, while coming on again as a sub in their 2-1 loss against Tigres.

The ‘Caps also picked up former Orlando City man Brek Shea earlier this year after sending Giles Barnes down to Florida in exchange. While Shea has only played two of Vancouver’s three MLS match-ups, he started and scored the lone goal for Vancouver in their CCL match this week, then was subbed off in the 10th minute due to an injury.

It’s hard to tell exactly what kind of lineup coach Carl Robinson will trot out for the visitors especially after playing a hard-fought midweek game, but we can expect that he won’t hold back as they look to get on track in MLS play. 16-year-old Alphonso Davies has been one to watch for the Canadian side this season as well, as he’s found his way into Robinson’s starting eleven more than once early on in the season.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Minnesota United FC Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

On the home side, RSL continues to struggle with injuries and absences, as Aaron Maund suffered a hamstring strain in Minnesota last week and will likely be out against Vancouver. With David Horst out six to eight weeks after undergoing knee surgery, and Justen Glad still out indefinitely with his knee injury, we’ll likely see a center-back tandem of Chris Schuler and rookie Justin Schmidt.

Hopefully we won’t have to see a situation like last week, where Maund came out and Mulholland had to slot in at right back, due to not having any other true defenders on the bench.

In addition, it’s been reported that Sunny is carrying an undisclosed injury, while Tony Beltran was back in training this week after missing two games with a back injury.

No matter who Petke decides to put in the starting eleven in his first game at the helm, expect to see a group of guys with a newfound fire under them, as they’ll all start playing to earn their spots under the new boss this weekend.


Absences

Real Salt Lake
OUT: Chad Barrett (knee surgery 4-6 months), David Horst (knee surgery, 6-8 weeks)
QUESTIONABLE: Jordan Allen (quad strain), Justen Glad (knee injury), Sunny (undisclosed injury), Aaron Maund (hamstring strain)

Vancouver Whitecaps
OUT: Brett Levis (ACL tear), Yordy Reyna (foot surgery), David Edgar (PCL, MCL tear), Erik Hurtado (foot contusion)

Expected Lineups

Real Salt Lake: Rimando; Beltran, Schuler, Schmidt, Phillips; Beckerman, Mulholland; Lennon, Rusnak, Saucedo; Movsisyan

Vancouver Whitecaps: Ousted; Williams, Waston, Parker, Harvey; Laba, Tchani; Techera, Bolanos, Davies; Montero

Match info

When: Saturday, April 8, 7:30pm MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

Weather: 39 degrees, snow

Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live

Referee: Baldomero Toledo