Know Thy Enemy: 'Caps face crafty Real Salt Lake side in first test of 2023 MLS regular season

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VANCOUVER, BC - After four long months, Vancouver Whitecaps FC returns to action this Saturday, February 25 as they take on Western Conference adversaries Real Salt Lake in their opening match of the 2023 MLS regular season at BC Place, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. PT. The club is expecting the largest home opener crowd since 2020 at the match.

  • Catch all the action live on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV starting with the prematch show starting at 7:10 p.m. PT. The game will also be available on TSN3/4 and AM730, with the radio pre-game show starting at 6:30 p.m. PT

The 'Caps wrapped up their preseason last Saturday with a 2-0 win against Minnesota United FC in their final match of the Coachella Valley Invitational, where they posted a 3W-0L-3D record and claimed three clean sheets.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake played three preseason friendlies in the lead up to the regular season, winning their final match of preseason against USL Championship side El Paso Locomotive.

In this piece, we look at RSL's players to watch, their balanced approach and the return of one of their key attackers.

FIXTURE HISTORY

Saturday's clash will be the 30th all-time MLS match between the two teams and the first of two meetings this season, with the 'Caps set to travel to Salt Lake later in the year on September 23.

The previous meeting at BC Place took place last June, with the 'Caps claiming a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Ranko Veselinović and Ryan Gauld.

In terms of their last meeting prior to Saturday's match, the 'Caps rescued a deserved point with a 1-1 draw at America First Field last August, thanks to Julian Gressel's first goal for the club.

ONES TO WATCH

Despite losing the likes of fullback Aaron Herrera, forward Bobby Wood, and a certain Venezuelan striker, Real Salt Lake have added some promising pieces during the offseason in the form of young Colombian winger Carlos Andrés Gómez and versatile defender Brayan Vera.

Gómez, who was acquired from Colombian first division side Millionarios as a U-22 Initiative signing for a club-record fee, is looking to be one of Salt Lake's top offensive threats this season on the wing with his direct play towards goal and trickiness on the dribble.

Given RSL's freedom to let their wingers create in the final third, expect Gómez to get plenty of touches out wide to take advantage of 1v1 situations, especially when you consider his team will be missing forward Rubio Rubin due to suspension.

At the back, Vera will look to help shore up the Claret and Blue's defensive shape at the left-back position, where he'll be competing with former English Premier League fullback Bryan Oviedo.

The Colombian, who represented his country at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, can also play centrally but at the fullback spot can provide the directness Salt Lake looks for in that position with his ability on the ball and finding line-breaking passes in the build-up.

The 'Caps will need to be aware of RSL's new additions to limit them from having big impacts in their potential MLS debuts.

BALANCED TACTICS

At times fully committed to attacking and at times fully committed to defending.

In other words, it's a balance of play.

That's the way Real Salt Lake head coach Pablo Mastroeni likes to play; with everything in balance and letting his players express themselves on the field.

However, the 'Caps could find some success playing against his system with their numbers in attack.

Given the amount of interchanging combinations the 'Caps have had in preseason on the offensive, they could be able to break Salt Lake's balance by playing quickly in between the lines.

In addition, RSL tend to defend with a lesser forced man marking system so with some combinations in good areas to outrun Salt Lake's press, the 'Caps could find themselves operating in high expected assists and expected goals areas in the final third.

KREILACH RETURNS

Last year, RSL midfielder/forward Damir Kreilach missed the majority of the season after undergoing surgery for a back issue in June.

But now with the 2023 season just around the corner, it looks like Kreilach could be available to make his return from the injury.

The Croatian, who has alternated roles as a striker, attacking midfielder, and central midfielder during his time in Utah, had a career-year in 2021 with 16 goals and nine assists in 33 appearances during the regular season.

If he's deployed as an attacking midfielder on Saturday, the 'Caps will need to keep an eye on his late runs into the box and his lethal finishing ability inside the box.

Make sure to catch the 'Caps begin their 2023 MLS regular season campaign against Real Salt Lake this Saturday, February 25 at BC Place. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. PT. Tickets to the match are still available at www.whitecapsfc.com/tickets. Can't make it to the match? Catch all the action live on MLS Season Pass, TSN3/4 and AM730, with the radio pre-game show starting at 6:30 p.m. PT.

MLS Season Pass
The 2023 season will see the debut of MLS Season Pass, the unprecedented subscription service from Apple and MLS that will have every match of the regular season, Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, and Leagues Cup – all in one place and with no blackouts. As an exclusive benefit, Whitecaps FC 2023 Season Members will receive a subscription to MLS Season Pass on Apple TV, as well as significant savings over single match tickets.