Match Day: Is there a spark for Whitecaps FC in Salt Lake?

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April16_VCB-VANvRSL

The Vancouver Whitecaps will try to get the train back on the rails this weekend against Real Salt Lake. After a 4-0 loss in D.C., the ‘Caps will try their luck against a surprising 3W-2D-0L RSL team.

Think back to the pre-season predictions from soccer pundits around the league. Think about how, right now, the Vancouver Whitecaps are outside the playoff picture. Think about how Real Salt Lake are in third place in the Western Conference. If this isn’t a “Twilight Zone” moment, I don’t know what is.

Matchup

Venue: Rio Tinto Stadium; Sandy, Utah
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: TSN2

Here at the RioT

Year Match Score
2011 June 4th RSL 2 – 0 VWFC
2012 July 27th RSL 2 – 1 VWFC
2012 Oct. 27th RSL 0 – 0 VWFC
2013 May 4th RSL 2 – 0 VWFC
2014 Apr. 26th RSL 2 – 2 VWFC
2014 July 19th RSL 1 – 1 VWFC
2015 Apr. 18th RSL 0 – 1 VWFC

The above table shows Vancouver’s road record in Sandy, Utah since entering Major League Soccer in 2011. As you can see, it was only last year that the ‘Caps got their first win in the not-so-cozy confines of Rio Tinto (a.k.a “the RioT”).

That win wasn’t exactly one for the highlight reels, either, with a pragmatic 4-3-1-2 (three defensive midfielders!!) bunkering like mad and threatening on the counter. Vancouver managed to take advantage of a 76th minute red card to RSL’s Sebastian Saucedo to bank a Darren Mattocks header served up by Russell Teibert. A second red card, this time to imposing RSL defender Jámison Olave, sealed the deal.

Matías Laba is back from his suspension, so head coach Carl Robinson has his key midfield component if he wants to go back to the three-DM formation. Andrew Jacobson has proven he has the chops for gruelling midfield duty, so that’s midfielder #2. If Teibert is over his injury and able to go the full ninety minutes, bingo – three DMs.

I’m assuming here that Robbo will return to the 4-3-1-2 formation not out of choice but out of necessity. Captain Pedro Morales, buzzing playmaker Nicolás Mezquida and snake-bitten forward Octavio Rivero are listed as either injured or questionable for the RSL match, which depletes the forward options somewhat.

Goals, Please

Speaking of forwards, can we just have one goal from them? Please?

It doesn’t have to be from open play, though that would be amazing. Having seen the Whitecaps score goals last season, it’s infuriating to see the ol’ scoring well dry up. Please, sir, we want some more.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZrgxHvNNUc

I wonder if a full song-and-dance musical number would help. Hey, it can’t hurt, right?

Seriously, this has long passed the usual cry for increased scoring and moved into a legitimate crisis. Someone – ANYONE – needs to step up and score goals, pronto. Failure to do so may result in serious questions being asked – questions nobody thought we’d be asking after last year’s successful campaign.

Served on a Plata

Vancouver isn’t the only team to boast a diminutive yet dangerous winger. Real Salt Lake’s version of Christian Techera is former Toronto FC player Joao Plata, whose early season production – four goals and three assists in five games – already has him in the conversation for league MVP.

(Side note: If his form holds, Plata is another MVP-calibre player let go by TFC. Imagine how the Reds would fare with Plata and Matías Laba – who they traded to Vancouver in 2014 – in their lineup, then point and laugh because it’s TFC. #TrawnaGonnaTrawna)

Plata hasn’t always been a scoring dynamo (because he’s never played for Houston. Ha! MLS pun!).

Excluding 2016, the Ecuadorian winger/forward has only 24 goals and 26 assists in 110 appearance, 88 of them starts. I say “only” fully aware of the irony that Vancouver supporters would kill for a goal-every-four-starts player right about now.

Still, whether it’s an early season aberration (see also: Octavio Rivero’s start to 2015) or a sign of things to come, Plata is undeniably the danger man of RSL head coach Jeff Cassar’s new-look team. Shutting him down will be priority one for the defence.

Prediction

2-1 RSL. It hurts to predict another loss on this road trip. My emotional side refuses to accept the possibility that the ‘Caps could lose again, raising even further warning flags about the start to this season.

However, my logical side remembers the thrashing D.C. United just laid on the Blue and White and, coupled with Vancouver’s anemic scoring record, that points to more grief away from home.

I’ll show some optimism and predict that there will be a goal for the good guys, at least.

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Rituro Podcast DP of "From The Backline". Soccer and hockey fan. Lifelong gamer. Irrepressible nerd. #YYJ
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