The Vancouver Whitecaps are taking on Real Salt Lake on Friday, as they return to MLS action after a lengthy international break. Here’s our preview ahead of that one.
After having had a chance to recharge the batteries, they’re just ready to get back out there.
Having been just under a month since they last played a competitive game, the Vancouver Whitecaps are just chomping at the bit to get back out there again, which is something that they’ll finally get to do on Friday, against Real Salt Lake, kicking off week 8 of MLS action.
Thanks to the unique combination of an international break and a bye-week sandwiched together, the Whitecaps have now gone over 4 weeks without any competitive action, meaning that they’re more than ready to get going here, allowing them to get their feet back underneath them.
With only 2 ‘Caps being called for international duty, head coach Marc Dos Santos and his players have spent a lot of time training and preparing for the next few games that lie ahead, as they’ll look to hit the ground running after a tough end to their first stretch of the year.
“Yeah, it impacted us in a big way, because you’re able to work with the guys that are going to play tomorrow, and go through – okay, what do we want to be about? So I think it’s a very good moment for us as a team.”
And make no mistake – not only do they want to hit the ground running – they kind of need to. Having lost their last 3 games before the break, the ‘Caps are currently 11th out of 13 teams in the Western Conference, and are only 1 point from the bottom.
With a win, however, they’ll jump right back into the playoff conversation, and although it’s still too early to call this a must-win game, it’s certainly a game where winning would give them a huge motivation boost.
“For sure, we addressed some things,” Dos Santos said of the break on Thursday. “During the break, we addressed some things, we looked at some things we could maximize in our roster, the types of players that are here now, and how we could go about things, so it was just good to get these days to work, work with the team and to go through things we wanted to better in our game.”
So to do that, the ‘Caps will look to try some new things on Friday, as they’ve spent the break slightly rejigging their tactical formula.
In a pair of friendlies against a USL League 2 side, Ogden City, the ‘Caps appeared to work on a 3-5-2, which is a slight deviation from the 4-4-2 they mostly worked with through the first 7 games, showing that Dos Santos and his staff are indeed trying to change their fortunes after this break.
Along with the acquisition of a new player, Brian White, who was traded to Vancouver from the New York Red Bulls a few weeks ago, the Whitecaps will be hoping that those changes are able to allow them to find some new life, giving them what they need in order to go on a good run here.
That doesn’t mean all is rosy, as they still remain without the services of one of their DPs, Ali Adnan, who remains in visa limbo, and are missing Bruno Gaspar and Tosaint Ricketts due to injury, but for the most part, this team is about as close to a first-choice team as we might have seen in 2021.
There are still some holes to be filled, primarily at that attacking midfielder position, one which the ‘Caps appear to be close to shoring up in July when the secondary transfer window opens up, but aside from that, Dos Santos will be able to put out what would be considered about 90 or 95% of his best team against RSL.
So because of that, it’ll be interesting now to see how this ‘Caps team looks now. Having dealt with those struggles on the other end of the break, they looked to treat this break like a ‘preseason 2.0’, one where they hit the reset button, and we’ll see the results of that on Friday.
Playing this game ‘away’ in Utah, which happens to be their home base having set up camp there since March, the ‘Caps have every chance to prove that they’ve found some new life this break, allowing them to get their season back on track after a slight bump in the road.
“We’ve adapted to the altitude, we’re ready to deal with the weather,” Dos Santos said. “We both have 5 subs, and that’s going to be important I think in this game, and at the same time, I think it puts you in a much better place to succeed.”
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Brian White
Heading into this game, keep a close eye on White, who will be expected to make his debut at striker for the ‘Caps.
As was debated when he was traded, it’s not sure if someone like White will necessarily fix any of the issues that the team had before the break, but on the other hand, he’s a solid player, one that can make an impact up front.
So because of that, look for him to hit the ground running for his new club, as he’ll try to do everything possible to quell the doubters. As most people know, strikers are streaky, so he’ll know that getting a goal or two could be a good way to set up a nice run of form, allowing him to make a positive introduction to his new club.
Elsewhere, here are some storylines that stand out from this game.
Home away from home:
To start, it’s important to expand on what we slightly touched upon a bit earlier, and that’s the fact that this is basically a home game for the Whitecaps, despite being the designated road team.
Having set up in Utah since March due to ongoing pandemic restrictions, they’ve played all 3 of their home games there so far in 2021, winning 2 of them.
So against a Salt Lake team that usually has the advantage of being adjusted to playing at altitude, one of the unique factors of playing in Utah, the ‘Caps will be more prepared than most road teams that travel there, giving them a slight edge compared to past ‘Caps teams that have had road games in Sandy, Utah.
Are the goals here to stay?
Otherwise, it’ll be interesting to see if the ‘Caps offence shows up on Friday, as they’ve had a pretty rough go of things so far in 2021. With only 1 open play goal through 7 games, the ‘Caps have already been shut out 3 times this season, often struggling to break through opposition defences.
They are slightly trending upwards, as they did finally score that open play goal in their last game before the break, but even that wasn’t enough to remove the doubts surrounding this team’s offence, who aren’t just struggling to finish, but are struggling to create, as well.
So heading into this game, this will be a good test of their abilities. Against a Salt Lake team that has actually been pretty solid defensively, only conceding 7 goals in 6 games, the ‘Caps will need to find a way to break through here, finding those much-needed goals.
And one way to do that might be through their aforementioned formation switch, as there is a strong possibility that the ‘Caps start this game in a 3-5-2, at least if we’re to take anything from the two exhibition games that they played during the break.
Given that this ‘Caps team has solid centre backs, good wing backs, some good strikers and midfielders best suited for a 3-man unit, this could be a positive change, one that allows them to find some form.
Despite what the results suggest, they’ve got a good team, but they just haven’t always played like it, and maybe this 3-5-2 could be the way for them to do that more regularly.
Obviously, it’ll depend on how much chance creation that the change actually generates, because as mentioned earlier, that’s the ‘Caps big struggle right now, but if it does, the floodgates could open for Vancouver on Friday.
Lastly, it’s important to look at some key numbers that stand out heading into this game.
First, it’s worth noting that both teams are struggling to generate chances offensively, as RSL is 2nd-last in MLS in Expected Goals (xG) per game with 0.96, while the ‘Caps are 5th-last with 1.11.
Because of that, you just feel something has to give in that department, and that’s reflected in the fact that the ‘Caps give up the 5th-most xG per game with 1.74, while RSL isn’t that far behind them in 10th-last with 1.47.
Both teams don’t really like to play with the ball, either, with the ‘Caps sitting with an average of 47.9% of possession per game, while RSL holds 46.8%, making it interesting to see who will decide to keep the ball in this game.
So when looking at these numbers, it looks like it’ll be a very even game, at least based on what we’ve seen from these teams from before the international break, which should make it a good one to watch when the whistle blows on Friday.
Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos
Record: 2W-4L-1D (7 PTS)
Real Salt Lake:
Head Coach: Freddy Juarez
Record: 2W-1L-3D (9 PTS)
Real Salt Lake 1-2 Vancouver Whitecaps
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Real Salt Lake
So now, look forward to a decent matchup between these two teams, as they usually combine for good contests, as 2020 proved.
Having won both of their games against Salt Lake last year, the ‘Caps will look to repeat the feat again in 2021, but on the other hand, this RSL team has proven to be quite stingy so far this year, picking up points in 5 of their first 6 games.
But with there having been such a long pause between games for both teams, form will likely be thrown out the window now, meaning that a win here could be a way for either side to get a fresh start ahead of a busy schedule.
With 3 games in 8 days awaiting them in the next week, the ‘Caps will not be eased back into action after this break, but despite that, having spent so much time off, they should be more than prepared to meet that challenge, starting Friday.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake, Friday, June 18th, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy)