Building it Up: Vancouver Whitecaps hoping for more ‘consistent’ tactical approach ahead of Real Salt Lake clash (Preview #17)

The Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to take on Real Salt Lake at ‘home’ in Portland on Saturday. Here is our preview ahead of that one, as the ‘Caps look to avoid losing their 5th MLS game in a row, tying a high under Marc Dos Santos. 

After a short break, it’s time to get right back at it. 

Mere days after losing their 4th game in a row, as they succumbed in a 3-0 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes, the Vancouver Whitecaps are back at it on Saturday, as they now take on Real Salt Lake. 

As they look to avoid tying their longest-ever losing streak under head coach, Marc Dos Santos, which was a 5 game skid in July of 2019, RSL provides them with a stiff test in this one. 

At the same time, the ‘Caps will feel confident in their chances against RSL, especially considering that their last win came against this same Salt Lake side a few weeks back. 

With both teams right in the thick of a hunt for a playoff spot, with only 3 points separating them in the satndings, this game promises to be intense, as RSL looks to avenge that home loss, in which Vancouver scored a late goal to snatch all 3 points. 

“Yeah, but not only because of that first game we played against them, I think it’s more related to how we are both fighting for something similar,” Dos Santos said of the games likely intensity on Friday. “And we’re both fighting to finish in the top eight, and when you are in games like that, they’re just games that are going to be closer and closer looking like playoff games.”

“And that’s what I expect that the intensity of the game, I expect the fight in the game is going to be, all due to what’s at stake and that’s a playoff spot that is.” 

And despite the losing streak, Dos Santos appears to be in good spirits ahead of this one, knowing that his team is close to breaking out of this slump. 

They’ve had flashes of good play in these recent games, they’ve just been unable to find a way to turn that into results, something which they’re looking to change on Saturday. 

“I feel good about the game,” Dos Santos said. “The guys feel good about the game, guys want to play this like they’re playing a final. It’s between two teams that want to fight very hard to be in a playoff spot, and we want to make sure that we build, especially on the game we played against Portland, the first half that we played against San Jose, so that it becomes more of the consistent approach of how we want to play as a team, and make sure that we put that out there for 90 minutes on Saturday.”

To do that, however, the ‘Caps need to score goals. They’re without a goal from open-play during this losing streak, with their last non-penalty goal coming in that aforementioned RSL game, so obviously breaking that duck has to be a priority. 

While the defence has been an issue as well, at least in terms of the individual breakdowns that have tended to cause them issues in these losses, it feels like if they could attack more, the defence would be less susceptible to those concerns. 

Therefore, a big part of Dos Santos’s focus has been on getting the ball into the final third and keeping it there, before finding a way to break through and turn that possession into chances and goals.  

“We create chances by being closer to their goal,” Dos Santos said. “It’s all related to where we recover the balls, where we win the balls. When we win the balls, how fast can we get our best players, our best attacking players closer to their box, and that’s what we want to do.”

“We created a lot of chances, it’s true that we didn’t score from open place since Salt Lake, but if you look at the chances that we created against Portland, the chances that we created in the first half against San Jose, this is going to end up getting in. I believe that these chances are going to change into goals, and that’s what I expect tomorrow.”

One such player to keep an eye on as a result is Lucas Cavallini, the ‘Caps record-signing, who has struggled so far in his first MLS season. 

He has as many suspensions (2) and penalty misses (2) as he does goals (2), but at the same time, he’s done well to generate chances, so it just feels like a matter of time before he has a breakout game. 

Considering that he came off the bench to score the winner in that RSL game, that he might start in this one in the return from a suspension for yellow card accumulation could be good news for Vancouver, as Cavallini looks to finally bust a slump that has kept him down for most of this season. 

Those struggles are bothering him, no doubt, but much like the rest of his team, he feels like he’s close to breaking through, he just needs to find that signature moment. 

“I just try to be as professional as I can,” Cavallini said on Friday. “Take care of my body, train hard, do some extra stuff if I need to, speak to my family, of course, it always gets me out of my red zone, when I’m upset or something, but here the team has really jelled well.”

“We have a lot of stuff to do together and just the team bonding has been good, and everybody’s just trying to overcome this hard situation that we’re going through, and hopefully tomorrow, we start a new page.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Lucas Cavallini

Lucas Cavallini in action versus TFC at BC Place in September (Keveren Guillou)

Basically, this section has mostly consisted of a rotating cast of ‘Caps attackers lately, but that gives you an idea of the offensive struggles the team has battled through. 

At the same time, they all feel so close to breaking through, and none more so than Cavallini, who has seemingly found a way to generate one dangerous chance in every game that he plays. 

Against an RSL team that he’s already scored on, there’s no better time for him to have his first multi-goal game in MLS, so make sure to keep an eye on him in this one, as he sets out to try and do just that. 

Storylines: 

Red Card Drama? When these teams met, Kyle Beckerman was sent off for stamping on Thomas Hasal’s head, a gesture that appeared to end the promising rookie’s debut MLS campaign. 

Considering that in the 4 games since then, the ‘Caps have picked up 3 red cards, could we see another red card in this one? 

That’s not to say that Vancouver is going to seek out retribution for their fallen goalkeeper, as this isn’t hockey, but just based on how these two teams have played as of late, it does feel like a red card could be imminent. 

Home sweet home, sort of: For the first time in a while, the ‘Caps play a home game, because with all due respect to the ‘home’ game they played against the Timbers 2 weeks back, that wasn’t a home game. 

While this game isn’t much of a home game, either, the ‘Caps do actually have more of a ‘home field’ advantage in Portland over RSL than they did against the Timbers, which should count for something. 

You add in the fact that the ‘Caps won’t have to travel for their next 2 games, allowing them more rest and recovery time, this ‘home’ advantage could prove to be beneficial for them here. 

Avoid the slow start: It’s no coincidence that in these 4 losses, the ‘Caps have conceded a goal in the first 10 minutes of one of the two halves in all 4 games, as they’ve struggled at coming out strong out of the gate after pauses. 

While they’ve avoided conceded in the first 10 minutes of the 1st half in the past 2 games, it’s been painful to see them play well and keep the game scoreless through 45 minutes only to concede inside the first 10 minutes of the second half, tanking their chances at winning. 

If they can manage to avoid that, however, it does feel like they could actually have a chance at winning, provided they actually find a way to finish their chances, something they’ve struggled with in recent games. 

Stats Splurge: 

When these teams first met, it was actually quite even, as despite a 64-36 advantage in the possession department for RSL, the shots on target were only 4-3 for them, and they only won the Expected Goals battle 1.99-1.37.

While the red card they picked up certainly played a role in that, the game was actually really even until then, and if anything, the ‘Caps looked worse with the extra man than they did without it. 

In a battle between a boom-or-bust team in terms of xG, Vancouver, and a middling xG team, RSL, this one feels like it’ll be tight once again, much as it was in the first game. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps: 

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Regular Season Record: 5W-11L-0D (15 PTS)

Real Salt Lake: 

Head Coach: Freddy Juarez

Regular Season Record: 4W-6L-6D (18 PTS)

2020 Matchup:

Real Salt Lake 1-2 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward:

This is a big game for both teams, as Vancouver needs to at least draw to keep their playoff hopes within close reach, while RSL would probably claw back into a playoff spot with a win. 

Considering what we saw when these 2 teams last met, that’s good news, as it promises to be another intriguing fixture. 

As the ‘Caps look to take advantage of ‘home-field’ advantage, it’ll be interesting to see if they can avoid hitting a 5-game skid and snatch some points, because if not, it feels like their season may be all but over. 

So with that in mind, it’s a huge game, as they look to show that despite their current struggles, they’re not as bad as they’ve looked as of late.

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake, Saturday, October 10th, 19:00 PST (Providence Park, Portland)

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