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Preview: RSL to clash with Vancouver in pivotal six-point swing

Real Salt Lake heads north to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps in an essential must-win with regards to playoffs.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again now: this is the most important match of the season for Real Salt Lake.

The top six is within reach for RSL this weekend, as they battle it out with the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place. In a virtual must-win for the visitors, taking home the full three points could potentially put them as high as fifth place if other results go their way. Let’s take a look at the Western Conference standings.

Western Conference standings as of September 8th.

While nearly every team ahead of them has at least one game in hand, RSL could find themselves tied on points with Vancouver and Houston, while overtaking Dallas completely this weekend. Granted, Houston and Vancouver’s goal differential both heavily outweigh RSL’s -8, but the first tiebreaker in regular season play is number of wins so that plays to their advantage a little bit.

To be honest, Houston plays host to Colorado on Saturday, so chances are they’ll grab the full three. But San Jose visits a tough Toronto team while slumping Dallas find themselves on the road against Atlanta, so those are two results that could very likely end up in RSL’s favor.

We have a whole article on RSL’s playoff chances going forward, so we don’t need to go into much more detail here, but the bottom line is that this is an incredibly important game that will have a big hand in deciding the future of RSL’s season.

We all remember the last time these sides met, right? The big 3-0 win in an absolute blizzard? That turned out to be one of the few bright spots in what was a dismal first half to RSL’s season, but the players and the fans alike loved every minute of that contest.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 10-13-5 (35 points)
Table: 8th place (west), 15th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.25 (15th in MLS)
Most goals: Joao Plata (7), Yura Movsisyan (7)
Most assists: Albert Rusnak (11) *5th in MLS

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Make or break

As we all know by now, RSL needs these three points in Vancouver more than ever. A loss would be nearly catastrophic, as it’d put the Whitecaps well without of RSL’s reach — ahead by six points with three games in hand. RSL’s fate would then be up to themselves, contingent on results put out by Dallas, Houston, and San Jose for the remainder of the season.

Riding high while going unbeaten in eight of their last nine (5-1-3), RSL has found themselves as one of the hottest and most potent attacking teams in the league, outscoring their opponents 23-10 during that stretch.

Led by playmaker Albert Rusnak who’s tallied four assists and one goal through his last three games, and Luis Silva who’s on a hot streak of his own, scoring five goals in his last four outings, RSL’s scoring drought has officially come to and end and it seems that it’s full steam ahead on the front line.

What injuries?

While RSL’s official injury list still looks quite daunting at first glance with seven players potentially out this weekend, it’s hard to be anything less than optimistic when we see what they’ve been able to do over the past two months without the majority of those same guys.

The only position that comes as somewhat of a blow is center back, where Marcelo Silva is still listed as doubtful after the injury he suffered in Montreal. However, David Horst has done a fantastic job filling for him since then, so it’s hard to justify hitting the panic button on the backline, especially when RSL’s outscored opponents 8-1 over the last two matches.

RSL will also be without Danny Acosta due to the red card he was handed in the game against Colorado, so we can expect Chris Wingert to get the start in his stead.

Vancouver Whitecaps

Record: 11-9-5 (38 points)
Table: 4th place (west), 9th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.52 (7th in MLS)
Most goals: Fredy Montero (11)
Most assists: Christian Bolaños (7)

MLS: Canadian Championship-Montreal Impact at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Form and points per game

The Whitecaps are in a very good situation themselves. With only 25 games played — three less than RSL — they have the third-highest points per game average in the Western Conference, with an impressive 1.52, compared to RSL’s 1.25.

Coming off a 2-1 win over Orlando City before the international break, Vancouver will look to keep their solid form going throughout the rest of the season as they play catch-up with the rest of the league in games played.

While unbeaten in seven of their last nine (5-2-2), they’ve managed to turn around what looked like an underwhelming season, much like Real Salt Lake has. Newcomer and ex-Sounder Fredy Montero has broken out for the ‘Caps this season, notching 11 goals and three assists, leading the way for the Vancouver attack.

Tired legs and lineup rotations

While the Whitecaps are only missing two players to injury, they have a couple big players in Kendall Waston and Christian Bolanos, who are both coming back from playing significant minutes on international duty. They both featured in Costa Rica’s World Cup Qualifying games, so it remains to be seen whether they’ll be given the weekend off ahead of next Wednesday’s match-up against Minnesota, or if coach Carl Robinson will deem this weekend’s game against RSL more important.

Vancouver will also be without David Edgar and Matias Laba, who are out with a knee injury and a torn ACL, respectively.

RSL will also be going against a familiar face in defender Aaron Maund, who was traded to the Whitecaps earlier this year. He hasn’t played a minute of MLS action since RSL’s 4-1 win over Portland on July 19, but there’s a chance we could see him this weekend against his former club, especially if Robinson decides to rest Waston.

Leading scorers

RSL: Joao Plata (7), Yura Movsisyan (7), Albert Rusnak (6), Luis Silva (6), Jefferson Savarino (4), Kyle Beckerman (3)

VAN: Fredy Montero (11), Christian Techera (5), Brek Shea (3), Tony Tchani (3)


OUT: Jordan Allen (knee), Omar Holness (knee), Chad Barrett (knee), Ricardo Velazco (ankle), Danny Acosta (red card)
QUESTIONABLE: Matt Van Oekel (ankle), Demar Philips (hamstring), Marcelo Silva (hamstring)

OUT: David Edgar (knee), Matias Laba (torn ACL)

Expected lineups

RSL: Rimando; Beltran, Glad, Horst, Wingert; Beckerman, Sunny; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; L Silva

VAN: Ousted; Williams, Maund, Parker, Harvey; Jacobson, Tchani; Techera, Reyna, Bolanos; Montero

Match info

When: Saturday, September 9, 8:00PM MT

Where: BC Place — Vancouver, British Columbia

Weather: 59 degrees, partly cloudy

Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live (US), TSN (Canada)

Referee: Allen Chapman (2017: 62 yellow cards, 5 red cards, 10 penalty kicks)