Awkward Houseguests: Vancouver Whitecaps looking to snap skid versus RSL in strange ‘home’ game

The Vancouver Whitecaps take on Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. Here is our preview ahead of that one. 

After a stretch of 6 away games in their last 7, it’s a strange way to come back ‘home’. 

For the Vancouver Whitecaps, who remain stationed down in the United States for the time being, they’ll be happy to return to Utah, their ‘home-away-from-home’ for their next ‘home’ game, as they’ve been quite the road warriors as of late. 

The thing they won’t like, however, is that their ‘home’ game on Wednesday will come against their hosts, Real Salt Lake, mostly nullifying any sort of advantage that the Whitecaps might have had in a game like this. 

For a team that is currently reeling, winless in 7 games, the ‘Caps will have to find a way to fight through that on Wednesday, as they take on a Salt Lake side in a similar vein of form, having only won once in their last 8 games. 

The one thing that Salt Lake has over Vancouver, however? Their 1 win came against the Whitecaps a few weeks ago on June 18th, giving their Vancouver-based visitors something to ponder. 

And even more unfortunately for the ‘Caps, they come into this game missing some key pieces, as star goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau and DP striker Lucas Cavallini will be absent on Wednesday, as they’ve rejoined Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team for the Gold Cup. 

Along with the expected absences of the injured Michael Baldisimo, Bruno Gaspar and Tosaint Ricketts, that arguably leaves the ‘Caps without 4 starters, and that’s without considering the recent termination of DP and star left back, Ali Adnan, a move that removed even more talent from this ‘Caps squad. 

So considering all of that, the ‘Caps will look to play spoilers in this game, as the team currently sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference will look to show that they’re no pushovers, despite what the absences and recent results might suggest. 

“Get a positive result,” ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos said of his expectations for Wednesday. “I think that we have a frustration right now, that is a good one, and our frustration is with the full scenario of the situation.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Thomas Hasal

But returning to the subject of absences, they will prove to be key, as they’ll allow some new faces to get thrust into the spotlight. 

One of those names is expected to be Thomas Hasal, who is projected to make his first start of 2021 with Crepeau absent, giving the 21-year-old a chance to build off of his strong 2020 rookie season. 

Having stepped up big when Crepeau suffered a hand injury at the MLS is Back tournament last summer, keeping 2 clean sheets in 10 appearances, Hasal’s campaign was also then cut short by injury last year, meaning that this will be the first time he takes the pitch since September of 2020, when he suffered an injury against… Real Salt Lake. 

With Crepeau expected to miss anywhere from 3-6 matches, this will be a good time for Hasal to refind some of that form, helping the ‘Caps bust their slump even without their star goalkeeper, while also showing why he’s so highly regarded among ‘Caps brass. 

Storylines: 

Elsewhere, here are some other storylines that have stood out to us ahead of this game. 

White or Bair… or both? 

First, it’ll be curious to see in what direction Dos Santos chooses to go in terms of designating a Cavallini replacement, as both Brian White and Theo Bair look like good bets to replace the ‘Caps main striker up front, but it’s not yet sure which of the two Dos Santos will pick. 

Based on what we’ve seen as of late, White is the early favourite, as the ‘Caps did trade $400 000 of GAM for him during the international break, and he’s played in every game since the break, but Dos Santos did namedrop Bair’s name during his press conference this week. 

Realistically, White starting and Bair replacing him off of the bench seems like what Dos Santos will do, but don’t discount the possibility of Bair either joining him in a front two, or even returning to the wing, giving someone like Cristian Dajome a much-needed rest. 

Home field disadvantage: 

Otherwise, it’ll be interesting to monitor the impact, or lack thereof, of the ‘home’ crowd for the ‘Caps, as they’ve been able to sell tickets for this game. 

Obviously, with the usual Rio Tinto Stadium hosts, Salt Lake, as the visitors, that’ll mean that the away crowd will be a lot stronger than usual, but who knows, maybe there will be a good smattering of fans looking to support the underdog renters. 

The good news for the ‘Caps? This is one of the last times that they’ll have to endure something like this, as they’ll probably head back to Canada in the next couple of weeks, allowing them to play in front of their Vancouver faithful for the first time since February of 2020. 

Until then, though, they must endure a few more awkward ‘home’ encounters, with this one probably being the most awkward of them all. 

Leaving it late? 

Lastly, one will have to keep an eye on the ‘Caps defence, as they’ve dropped points in the second half in 4 straight games now, including 3 games where that fatal goal came after the 90th minute. 

For a ‘Caps team stuck at the bottom of the Western Conference, those 6 points that they lost could’ve been the difference between being a basement-dweller and a team on the fringe of the playoffs, so they’ll know very well that they can’t afford to continue making this a trend. 

So heading into this game, where they’re facing off with one of the teams that sunk them with a late goal, Salt Lake, who won their game a few weeks ago off of an Erik Holt 92nd minute header, the ‘Caps will look to take care of business throughout the entire game, including those added on at the end. 

Stats Splurge:

Moving over to the numbers, it looks like offence isn’t exactly on the forecast for either team on Wednesday, as this matchup pits the 3rd-worst and 5th-worst teams in MLS in terms of generating Expected Goals (xG) per game, with Salt Lake averaging 1.09 xG for per game, while the ‘Caps sit with 1.16 xG per game. 

With the ‘Caps giving up the 7th-most xG against per game with 1.64, and RSL not that far in front of them with a 12th-worst 1.40 xG against, there is the counter-argument that their squeaky defences could lead to goals, but based on the last meeting between these two teams, that’s unlikely. 

In that clash, both teams combined for a 1-1 over the course of 90 minutes, until a late Salt Lake flurry put them up 3-1, meaning that somewhere in the region of a 1-1 or a 2-1 would be the reasonable expectation here. 

Otherwise, the battle to watch will be the possession one, as Salt Lake is actually 11th in MLS in possession per game with 50.4%, while the ‘Caps are 24th with 47.1%, meaning that the guests will be expected to hold more of the ball. 

Considering that the split was 60-40 in Salt Lake’s favour in the last meeting between the two teams, expect them to hold a lot of the ball, but based on their xG numbers, it’d be a surprise to see them do all that much with it. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps: 

Record: 2W-6L-3D (9 PTS)

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Real Salt Lake:

Record: 3W-3L-4D (13 PTS)

Head Coach: Freddy Juarez

2021 Matchup:

Real Salt Lake 3-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward:

So now, both teams will get set to do battle on Wednesday night, in a game that could be huge for two slumping teams looking to reignite their quickly fading playoff hopes. 

With the ‘Caps looking to crawl out of the basement after back-to-back draws, while RSL looks to avoid falling further and further out of the playoff picture, now sitting in 9th, this could prove to be a big momentum booster for either side ahead of a short break. 

Seeing that the ‘Caps must deal with the reality of being a ‘home’ team that isn’t really a ‘home’ team, along with a few absences, it won’t be an easy match for them, but it could be one that might prove to be key for revitalizing what is a quickly sinking season. 

Because of that, they’ll look to come out hard on Wednesday, finding a way to try and snatch a memorable result. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake, Wednesday, July 7th, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy)

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