Mike Petke has officially taken his role at the helm of Real Salt Lake and it could not come at a more important time. After a scathing loss to the worst defensive expansion team in Major League Soccer, Petke will hope he can start off right, especially if he hopes to make the RioT a fortress once again.
Minnesota United thrashed the Claret-and-Cobalt last week with attacks straight down their gullet. With the RSL midfielders pulled out wide in an attempt to link up with the wingers, the Loons took the most direct path to goal and punished the visitors.
Like Minnesota, the Vancouver Whitecaps play direct. Since the Caps’ quick style of play does not elicit much possession, the Canadian side often relies on long balls or precise through balls to spark the attack - most of which take the shortest route possible to the goal, right down the center of the pitch.
Seeing RSL get torn apart by similar play in Minneapolis, Carl Robinson will most likely instruct his squad to stick to the game plan that worked against the LA Galaxy.
What to watch
RSL’s central midfield tandem will need to stay centrally during this match. It is essential that Vancouver does not get even a glimpse of space outside the 18-yard box, since they are a squad that creates a lot of long shot opportunities. The Claret-and-Cobalt’s midfield needs to remain compact and keep up defensive pressure.
However, Petke might also look to switch things up in the midfield, going with a more attack-minded box-to box player. In this case, Albert Rusnak will also have to put in a defensive shift now and again.
Overall, the RSL midfield, whether it is comprised of three, four, or even five players, will need to be succinct in everything they do - both offensively and defensively.
Midfield Wrecking Crew
Coming in from a trade with the Columbus Crew SC, Tony Tchani will be looking to make a name for himself in Vancouver.
The center-midfielder built a strong partnership with Wil Trapp - something that the Caps will expect to grow between Tchani and Matias Laba - but several off-season acquisitions pushed Tchani down the depth chart in Columbus. It was for this reason that the Crew offloaded Tchani to Vancouver a few weeks ago.
However, the trade came at a price as the Caps parted ways with Kekuta Maneh. But conceding five goals in their first three MLS games probably forced the organization’s hand as they needed someone to screen the back-line and Tchani fits that bill to the T.
Within days of acquiring him, Tchani had a dominate showing as a mid-match substitution in which he helped the Caps claim a 4-2 win over the Galaxy.
While he adjusts to his new surroundings he might not be an instant starter, but, with the Whitecaps playing their third match in week, Robinson is likely to call his number on Saturday.
What to watch
Tchani is a strong midfield that will force most of RSL’s attacking plays down the wings. The Claret-and-Cobalt should not be too worried about this as Plata looks to be back from injury and Brooks Lennon’s great performance against the Loons.
RSL will need to again attack down the touchline, but, unlike the match against Minnesota, the midfield needs to remain central - which will be essential when combating another new Caps’ addition in Fredy Montero.
If RSL can balance both offense and defense in this match, they might be able to capture that elusive first win of the 2017 season.
Keys to the Match
1. Hold on to possession (especially in the attacking third) – The Claret-and-Cobalt will need to rely on retaining possession against a Vancouver roster that is full of speed. Keeping possession in their half will be critical, but against a side that has conceded the most fouls just outside their box, RSL should be looking to capitalize on a few set-piece opportunities.
2. Keeping cool – The Whitecaps are perhaps the most aggressive team in the league in 2017 as they look to capitalize on turnovers. This can lead to a lot of physical play and tempers rising. Real players need to portray a calm demeanor and avoid a plethora of calls against them.
3. Using home-pitch advantage – In soccer the home-field advantage plays a huge role, more so than any other sport some would argue. After a tremulous past couple of weeks, rely on the fans to be the 12th Man and provide that extra bump — after all this is a new beginning.
Expected Vancouver Whitecaps Lineup (4-2-3-1):
DEF: Nerwinski, Waston, Dean, De Jong
MID: Tchani, Laba
MID: Davies, Mezquida, Techera
Watch RSL take on the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday April 8th at 7:30 pm MST at Rio Tinto, on KMYU, or listen to Bill Riley on ESPN 700.