Whitecaps FC wrap up 2012 MLS regular season at Real Salt Lake

'Caps return to Utah to face Real Salt Lake on Saturday night

Playing their final Major League Soccer regular season match of 2012, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (11W-13L-9D) make a second visit of the year to Western Conference rivals Real Salt Lake (17W-11L-5D) on Saturday evening.

With an MLS Cup Playoff spot secured last weekend, Martin Rennie’s side are looking to put in a positive performance to wrap up their 34-match regular season schedule and build momentum for next week’s First Round Knockout clash at MLS Cup holders LA Galaxy. They visit a Salt Lake side looking to get over the midweek disappointment of exiting the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League by securing second place in the Western Conference standings.

Whitecaps FC versus Real Salt Lake from Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, kicks off at 6 p.m. PT and can be seen live on Sportsnet ONE and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to Saturday’s match live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 4 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 8 p.m. PT. Fans can also follow Saturday’s match on Twitter @WhitecapsMatch.

WHITECAPS FC

It may have been achieved through a Seattle Sounders FC home win over FC Dallas last weekend, but securing a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs in only their second season in the league is a huge achievement for Whitecaps FC. This time last year, Vancouver’s inaugural MLS campaign was at an end, with the Blue and White looking back on a difficult 6W-18L-10D season that left them bottom of the Western Conference standings. By next week, they will be one of 10 clubs to have a chance at winning this year’s MLS championship title.

Vancouver’s focus this week is to end an eventful 2012 regular season on a high note with a confidence-boosting performance in Utah – one that will put last weekend’s disappointing home defeat to Portland Timbers behind them. That could see Rennie play a stronger line-up than initially anticipated, with a view to sharpening his side for the playoff trip to Southern California. The scenario is made all the more intriguing by the fact that Whitecaps FC have no injury concerns in their first-team squad at present.

Whitecaps FC will also hope there is a chance to secure the top seed in next year’s Amway Canadian Championship (ACC) with a result over RSL. The ‘Caps are looking to finish ahead of MLS expansion side Montreal Impact in the 2013 ACC ranking. On Saturday, the Quebec outfit wrap up their season at home to Eastern Conference rivals New England Revolution, with Whitecaps FC hoping the Massachusetts club can do them a favour at Stade Saputo. A top ranking for either Vancouver or Montreal would provide the option as to when they would want to play their home leg in the semifinal and final series in the ACC, with second-tier North American Soccer League side FC Edmonton being the top-ranked club’s semifinal series opponents. The second seed would play four-time Voyageurs Cup holders and third seed Toronto FC over two legs in next year’s ACC semifinals.

SALT LAKE

The playoffs are now in full focus for Jason Kreis’ side following Tuesday’s disappointment in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). Needing a goal at home to Costa Rica’s Club Sport Herediano, the Claret-and-Cobalt were held to a goalless draw by the Central Americans at Rio Tinto Stadium, with the result ending RSL’s hopes of reaching the CCL quarterfinals in the New Year.

The midweek result shifts Salt Lake’s priority back to the MLS postseason and earning the decisive second leg of their upcoming Western Conference Semifinal series versus Seattle Sounders FC at home. To finish second in the west, RSL will need to better Seattle’s result this weekend, with Sounders FC at LA Galaxy in their final regular season match on Sunday night. Like the ‘Caps, Salt Lake are also looking to end their regular season campaign on a high note, with Kreis’ squad undefeated in their last four league matches (3W-0L-1D). They boast a high-powered attack that includes the league’s second-best scorer in Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio (17 goals), Argentine marksman Fabian Espindola (9 goals, 7 assists), and playmaker Javier Morales (3 goals, 9 assists).

Salt Lake will be without goalkeeper Lalo Fernandez (wrist), while defenders Jamison Olave (quad) and Kwame Watson-Siriboe (leg) are listed as doubtful for Saturday. Midfielder Ned Grabavoy (quad) is questionable to face the ‘Caps, while defenders Tony Beltran (knee) and Chris Wingert (turf toe) are listed as probable.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Saturday’s match is the fifth MLS meeting between Whitecaps FC and Salt Lake, with Vancouver registering two wins and two defeats versus their Western Conference foes since joining the league last year. Their first clash of 2012 was at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 27, with RSL earning a 2-1 home win over the ‘Caps through two goals by Saborio - the first coming from the penalty spot. Darren Mattocks replied for Whitecaps FC, who finished the match with ten men after goalkeeper Joe Cannon was sent off for handling the ball outside his own box in the second half. Whitecaps FC avenged that result with an impressive 2-1 victory over Salt Lake at BC Place on August 11. Second-half goals by Camilo Sanvezzo and Dane Richards secured the win in downtown Vancouver, despite Nat Borchers scoring late on for Salt Lake.

Before 2011, both Vancouver and Salt Lake met in preseason friendly action in Casa Grande, Arizona. As a USSF D-2 Pro League side, Whitecaps FC defeated RSL 2-1 at Grande Sports World on February 20, 2010. As an MLS outfit, goals by Russell Teibert and former ‘Caps midfielder Terry Dunfield earned Vancouver a 2-1 victory over Salt Lake at Grande Sports World on February 1, 2011. This preseason, Whitecaps FC drew 1-1 with RSL at Grande Sports World on February 10. Mattocks gave Vancouver the lead before Espindola equalized from the penalty spot in the preseason training match.

There are several connections between both sets of players. In 2006, Atiba Harris became the first player from Saint Kitts & Nevis to sign with MLS when he joined Salt Lake. RSL midfielder Jonny Steele spent part of the 2010 USSF D-2 Pro League season with Whitecaps FC, making 13 appearances for the Blue & White before moving to FC Tampa Bay (now Tampa Bay Rowdies). In 2011, the former Northern Ireland youth international played for Rennie at North American Soccer League side Carolina RailHawks, where he made 22 appearances while on loan from FC Tampa Bay. From 1996 to 1998, Whitecaps FC director of soccer Tom Soehn and Kreis were teammates at Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas). During that time, the pair won the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in 1997. ‘Caps goalkeeper Cannon was teammates with the Salt Lake trio of Beckerman, Borchers, and Wingert at Colorado Rapids.

PLAYOFF TIME!

Following Saturday’s regular season finale, Whitecaps FC will turn their attentions to an historic first match in the MLS Cup Playoffs when they make a fifth visit of 2012 to The Home Depot Center in Carson, California, to take on LA Galaxy in the Western Conference’s First Round Knockout match next Thursday night, November 1. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. PT and can be seen live on TSN and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to the November 1 playoff match live on TEAM 1040 radio (change from TEAM 1410) and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 5:30 p.m. PT. TEAM 1040 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 9:30 p.m. PT. *Whitecaps FC fans on Vancouver Island can also listen to the November 1 playoff match live on CFAX 1070 Victoria. Fans can also follow the November 1 playoff match on Twitter @WhitecapsMatch.

Secure your seats now at BC Place for the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs! Should the Blue and White win at LA Galaxy in next Thursday’s First Round Knockout match, they will host the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal series versus MLS Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, November 4 or Monday, November 5. Should Whitecaps FC advance from that two-leg semifinal series, they will host the first leg of the Western Conference Championship series on Saturday, November 10 or Sunday, November 11. CLICK HERE for more information on Whitecaps FC single match playoff tickets.