The USL Regular Season Championship Shield will be at Rio Tinto on Saturday as Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 come into Salt Lake after three straight losses at home. The Whitecaps have managed only a single victory since June 4th and have a 1-6-12 record during that stretch. Vancouver’s two road wins have both come at Providence Park over the struggling Portland Timbers 2 who are the only team below them in the Western Conference standings.
While the Whitecaps have a -19 goal differential this season that is measureably better than there two fellow bottom dwellers and indicative of the fact that they have managed to keep most of the matches close and competitive.
Midfielder Marco Bustos, a 21-year-old Canadian international with a MLS contract, leads the team with 8 goals in his 19 appearances. Forwards Thomas Sanner and Gloire Amanda have added 4 goals and 3 goals respectively.
Francis De Vries, David Norman and Cole Seiler have been the anchors of a Vancouver defense that has allowed 47 goals this season, but managed to keep their side in contention for most of the matches this season.
The Monarchs whose league leading 20% conversion rate is nearly double of the visting Whitecaps 2 need to continue to tune their offense for the upcoming playoffs. Coming off a two game road swing against more highly ranked opponents where the managed 5 goals and 2 clean sheets, the Monarchs should be flying high and seeking the net.
Chander Hoffman, who had two goals last week to break the glass ceiling of 14 goals, is just two goals behind Dane Kelly in the race for the USL Golden Boot and mentioned he wants to finish strong in a interview this week. Hoffman also has 7 assists this season which combines with the 8 assists from Charlie Adams and 6 assists from Sebastian Valesquez to lead the squad.
The three man back line of James Moberg, Taylor Peay, and Emilio Orozco which Coach Briggs threw out last week to confuse their opponents looked strong and combined well with Andrew Putna in goal and captain Nick Besler at defensive midfield. Putna, was named to the USL team of the week for his performance in Sacramento and Reno with two PK saves and two clean sheets to earn another start this week.
Daniel Haber, Andrew Brody, Juan Mare, Danny Cruz, Diego Calvo, Skyler Milne and Chase Minter will all be pushing for time as the Monarchs ramp up to what will hopefully be a deep run in the playoffs. Jonel Desire will be absent as he was called in by the Haitian national team for this international window.
In their six previous meetings with the Whitecaps 2, the Monarchs have a 2-2-2 record and a goal differential of 0. The Monarchs were 2-1 victors in the May 28th away match earlier this season on the turf in suburban Langley, British Columbia. In general, the matches between these two squads have been tightly contested affairs with neither side managing to establish any type of dominance for a string of matches.
What to watch for
It will be interesting to see if Coach Briggs continues to experiment with 3 man back line and dual forwards once it is no longer a surprise and on the Monarchs home field. Due to results last week, Coach Briggs has the comfort to continue to tinker with his lineup and formation in these two final matches at home as the squad continues to prepare for the playoffs.
While Vancouver has decent speed they are not the counter-attacking threat that Reno was last weekend and are more content to play for possession and buildup. This will only be emphasized due to the absence of Deklan Wynne and Myer Bevan who were called up to New Zealand’s national squad for this weekend. It will likely be up to the Monarchs to press the tempo and work to break down the deliberate defense of the Whitecaps.
The Monarchs who lead the league in conversion rate need to continue to not only combine for a number of shots on goal, they need to convert on their chances. Forwards are streaky by nature and need to continue the hot pace of the last few games. There is no reason for the Monarchs to play a conservative game and, with the road to the USL Cup likely to go through Rio Tinto, the Monarchs need to power up the offense and develop strategies that will get them goals against packed defenses.
Also watch for late goals by the visiting Whitecaps 2. A tendency to allow late goals has come up to bite the Monarchs several times this season and efforts to shut down matches are likely to be a second focus over the next two regular season matches.
Real Monarchs SLC: (3-5-2) Putna; Moberg, Peay, Orozco; Cruz, Besler, Adams; Valesquez, Lachowecki; Mare, Hoffman
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2: (4-1-4-1): Richey; Chung, de Wit, Seiler, Wynne; Norman; Serban, Baldismo, Bustos, Campbell; Amanda
When: Saturday, October 7, 7:00 pm MDT
Where: Rio Tinto Field — Sandy, UT
Weather: 68 degrees, Clear