Sports Mole previews Saturday’s Major League Soccer clash between Vancouver Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
The Vancouver Whitecaps begin a new month with a chance to extend their unbeaten run at BC Place Stadium to five straight matches in all competitions when they welcome Real Salt Lake to town on Saturday.
Vancouver are four points back of a playoff spot in the Western Conference of Major League Soccer after defeating Sporting Kansas City 1-0, while Claret and Cobalt are four points behind Los Angeles FC for the best record in the league, and are currently riding a three-game winning streak.
A side who have been underperforming throughout much of the 2022 campaign are beginning to trend in a positive direction, with the Caps earning points in four of their last five MLS affairs.
For the first time all season, Vancouver managed to win a game away from home last weekend, another positive sign for a team that at times seem to look overwhelmed on the road, conceding 16 goals.
Vanni Sartini knows that they will need to keep up that momentum and positive thinking moving forward with two of their first three games this month taking place on the road.
One area which remains a strong point is their play at home, winning their last game there against a talented and dangerous Dallas side (2-1).
Throughout this campaign, the Caps have often looked like a team without an identity, and although injuries have played a factor, they also tend to rush their ball movements in transition, which has killed plenty of potential goalscoring opportunities.
There have been many shortcomings which have cost this team points this season, namely several poor starts, having been outscored 11-4 in the first half of matches this year, while ranking near the bottom in terms of big chances created with only eight before their win over SKC.
Possession may be one of the most overrated statistics in football, however, this group have had so little that it seems worth noting as they have an average of just over 40%, which explains why they often do not appear like much of a threat going forward.
RSL came into the 2022 campaign without a lot of high expectations from MLS pundits, who saw them as an average team with a couple of quality individuals.
To this point of the campaign, it is fair to say that Pablo Mastroeni has been able to get the most out of his roster, with his team near the top of the table, grinding out numerous positive results.
With 25 points after 14 league fixtures, it matches their fastest start to the quarter-century mark since 2014, when they achieved that same feat.
Mastroeni has instilled a desire and belief within this group to play beyond their capabilities, and perhaps that is what they needed heading into this campaign after losing star midfielder Albert Rusnak to the Seattle Sounders, while Damir Kreilach has missed a considerable amount of time with a back injury.
They have trailed in two of their last three games but found ways to turn it around, claiming nine points from losing positions this season.
When playing on the road, they have been a complicated team to analyze defensively, conceding a goal or fewer on five occasions.
At the same time though, they have also looked poor on the road in other encounters, allowing two goals to the New England Revolution, and playing even worse at New York City FC, losing 6-0.
Vancouver Whitecaps Major League Soccer form:
Vancouver Whitecaps form (all competitions):
Real Salt Lake Major League Soccer form:
Cropper will likely be counted upon to maintain his solid play between the sticks for awhile as Thomas Hasal is out long term with a left-hand issue, Tristan Blackmon has a right knee sprain, captain Russell Teibert missed their previous match with a right eye problem, Ryan Gauld is a question mark with tightness in his right hamstring and Brian White was forced out last week because of health and safety protocols.
Andres Cubas was selected to the Paraguay national team for some upcoming international fixtures and will not be available to make his Caps debut until June 11, Ranko Veselinovic is among the league leaders in clearances with over 65 this season, while Deiber Caicedo has been their top chance creator with 14 before their victory against KC.
Bobby Wood, Sergio Cordova and Justen Glad each netted last Saturday in a 3-0 win for RSL over the Houston Dynamo, while goalkeeper Zac MacMath made four saves, picking up his fifth shutout of the year.
Kreilach is one of many players on the team still sidelined through injury, along with Zack Farnsworth (right ankle), Bret Halsey (ankle), Erik Holt (left foot), Jonathan Menendez (adductor) and Anderson Julio (hamstring).
Jefferson Savarino made his first appearance this year for Real Salt Lake in their victory over Houston, replacing Justin Meram in the 87th minute, while Maikel Chang picked up his team-leading fourth assist of the year on their winning goal.
Vancouver Whitecaps possible starting lineup:
Cropper; Nerwinski, Veselinovic, Jungwirth; Gutierrez, Raposo, Berhalter, Brown; Caicedo, Dajome; Cavallini
Real Salt Lake possible starting lineup:
MacMath; Herrera, Glad, Silva, Brody; Chang, Caldwell, Rubin, Meram; Cordova, Wood
We say: Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 Real Salt Lake
The Caps seem to feed off the energy that their home crowd has provided them, and they have slowly been chipping away at the hole that they dug themselves at the start of the campaign.
RSL have been more impressive and consistent, however they do not have an excellent track record at BC Place, winning only once there since 2013, so we expect the star players of Vancouver to shine and carry them to victory in this one.
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