2019 Match Preview #34: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Real Salt Lake: One last party at the disco

On Sunday, the Vancouver Whitecaps host Real Salt Lake at BC Place, in what will be the final game of their 2019 MLS regular season. 

With this 2019 MLS campaign nearing its business end, the Vancouver Whitecaps play host to Real Salt Lake at home on Sunday, a team they last played in the second game of this season. It seems so long ago that Vancouver made that trip down to Utah, with plenty of hope and optimism in their hearts, only to lose 1-0 due to a VAR decision that certainly haunted them for a good part of this year. 

As they get set to renew hostilities once again, these teams couldn’t be in any different situations. RSL come into BC Place fighting for the chance to have home-field advantage throughout a good chunk of the playoffs, having booked their ticket to the big dance already, while Vancouver has been left to aimlessly twirl through these last few games. The Caps have done a good job in doing so, however, as they have waltzed their way to 2 wins and a draw in the games since their elimination, knocking some playoff hopefuls off of the dance floor.

Last up on that post-playoff hit list, which also can go by the name of “2020 preseason schedule”, is a tough RSL side. Despite firing longtime manager Mike Petke in the middle of the summer, as well as parting ways with their general manager less than a week ago, RSL come to Vancouver with MLS Cup title hopes still within a very realistic reach. With longtime goalkeeper Nick Rimando retiring at the end of this campaign, look for RSL to make some noise in the playoffs, as they look to bring one last championship back to Salt Lake for the MLS veteran and all of their fans.  

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Injuries/Absences: Michael Baldisimo (Questionable)

Record: 8W-15L-10D (34 Points)

Manager: Marc Dos Santos

The Whitecaps enter this game with some confidence, fresh off a pretty impressive victory against a strong LA Galaxy side. While the Galaxy certainly have their issues at keeping goals out of their net, as many in MLS can certainly attest to, for the Whitecaps to fly down and snatch a result on the road was no small feat. Given that the Caps have struggled to generate offensive chances, let alone score goals, all year long, heading down to Hollywood and finding 4 goals and a win was something worth celebrating for them. 

There were some standout performers in that game, some of which will get a chance to shine in front of the BC Place faithful for one last time this season. Team MVP Max Crepeau looked sharp in goal, the 2nd of the 3 goals he conceded aside, as he looks to bring Caps fans to their feet once again as he has done all year. Centre back Jhesser Khemiri had a strong debut, not looking out of place as he returned from a lengthy absence from the sport with a knee injury, putting up 19 clearances and making life tough for LA’s star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Midfielder Hwang In Beom had 2 primary assists, as well as a secondary assist, as he looked very much like the player that terrorized teams like Real Salt Lake at the beginning of the season. Winger Michaell Chirinos has a strong night, running at defenders and even scoring the winner in the 93rd minute, his first as a Cap to boot. 

With Fredy Montero looking reinvigorated off of the bench, Theo Bair looking better and better each outing out, veterans like Andy Rose, Tosaint Ricketts and Russell Teibert putting in quality shifts and Erik Godoy looking strong out of position at right-back, it made for a good evening of Vancouver football. The big question, however, will be how they follow up that performance. Too often this season, Vancouver has had a good game, one that makes it seem like the Vancouver everyone has expected to arrive finally came out to play, and then they’ll return next week and look nowhere near that team from the game prior. 

So keep an eye on how Vancouver close out the season, as they likely return with the same lineup as the week before, with a boost provided via the return of Ali Adnan after suspension being one of the only changes of note. If Yordy Reyna is fit again, he might replace Ricketts or Montero up top, but besides that, it will be mostly the same guys that got things done down in LA for Dos Santos to rely on. 

BTSVancity Player(s) to Watch: Michaell Chirinos

Will Chirinos be back next year? We’ll find out soon (Keveren Guillou)

The Honduran international has looked good so far in a Whitecaps shirt, as his late-season audition continues for Vancouver. With this game being his last opportunity to impress, watch for a strong performance as he looks to show off his chops to the coaching staff. He’s got good speed, he can dribble well, and he is an underrated passer of the ball, improving Vancouver’s attack massively. With Adnan returning, with the full-back loving to fill the channel down the left-hand side for Vancouver, look for he and Chirinos to run rampant down RSL’s right-hand side in this last game. 

Storylines:

Spoiling the Party part 4: In the 4th of 4 games since their elimination, Vancouver gets their last chance to play the spoiler. After all but knocking out Houston and Columbus at home, and putting a dent in the Galaxy’s quest to host playoff games on the road, they’ll look to do the same against RSL. With the vision of the unfair VAR decision from earlier this year against them in their heads, they’ll have plenty of motivation to drop their red and yellow foes within the friendly confines of BC Place. 

Ending things off with a bang: With this game being at home, it’ll be a fan appreciation day of sorts, as the last game is usually reserved for some kind of celebration of the team’s support. Lucky people will receive game-worn jerseys, handouts and discounts will be flying around and the drinks will be flowing, so the Caps will want to reward their faithful with one last big bang at home. After a long campaign, it will be a good way to end on a strong note as they head into 2020. 

Rimando’s last tour: In Between The Sticks at the other end will be Rimando, the longtime MLS keeper. It will be interesting to see how he is received this last time in Vancouver, given that they have loved to poke fun at him in the past for his stocky stature, as he comes to this field for the last time. With RSL in a playoff spot, it’ll also be interesting to see how they fare in the postseason, as people watch to see how one of MLS’s finest ends his lengthy tenure in the league. 

Real Salt Lake:

Record: 15W-13L-5D (50 Points)

Manager: Freddy Juarez

Interestingly enough, the RSL projected lineup has 9 of the 11 starters from when they last played Vancouver, as they have managed to achieve their success this year with a consistent approach. They have a good goalkeeper in Rimando, complimented by a solid backline with Nedum Onuoha, Justen Glad and Marcelo Silva, giving them 3 solid centre backs to rotate in and out of the lineup. With Everton Luiz and Kyle Beckerman cleaning up the middle nicely, it frees up room for potent attackers Corey Baird, Albert Rusnak, Luis Savarino and Damir Kreliach. With their full-backs Donny Toia and Aaron Herrera both loving to push forward, it has made for a winning formula in Utah this season. 

They have a top 5 defensive record in MLS, making up for a middling offensive record, which will make them dangerous come playoff time. Given that they have some true game-breakers like Rusnak and Baird, who have both shown to be potent offensive players in this league, they’ll be an upset threat when it comes to picking brackets. With solid bench options like Sam Johnson and Joao Plata, it will be very interesting to see how this team does in this new 1 and done format the MLS has implemented. After upsetting LAFC last year in a first-round one and done matchup, don’t be surprised if they do the same again to a top team, as they certainly got the horses to do so. 

Like an MLS Zombie, they have constantly found a way to regenerate themselves despite the departures of players, so it’s no surprise to see them back in the playoff picture this year. With Rimando retiring, Beckerman close to the end himself, while some of their attackers look likely to soon move on, it’ll be curious to see if this does end up finally being their last hurrah. Don’t bet on it, however, as they have constantly found their way back into contention from when it seemed like they were at their death bed, and next year will probably be no different. 

Looking Forward:

Things get started at around 13:00 PST on Sunday, as all 24 teams kick things off at the same time as part of decision day. While this game holds less importance than some of the other ones between sides fighting for their playoff lives, a Salt Lake win would give them a huge boost for their playoff seeding, and given how Vancouver has played as of late, that won’t be an easy task. If anything, it’ll hopefully be a good send-off into 2020, as Vancouver now looks to rebuild themselves in order to compete next year, as they try and avoid falling too far behind the rest of their peers within MLS. 

Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake, Sunday, October 6th, 2019, 13:00 PST (BC Place, Vancouver)

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