After a three-plus week break from MLS regular season action, Vancouver Whitecaps FC will take to the pitch this Friday, June 18 to face Western Conference adversaries Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
In this edition of Talking Tactics, we get you set for the ‘Caps first match since May 22.
Sitting two points ahead of the ‘Caps in the Western Conference, Real Salt Lake had an interesting start to the season with convincing wins over Minnesota United and Sporting KC.
However, the Claret and Cobalt’s winning start to the season has now turned into a four-game winless run, with a loss against San Jose and three consecutive draws against Western Conference opponents.
The side’s slight dip in form doesn’t mean there aren’t dangerous players the ‘Caps should watch out for.
Ecuadorian winger Anderson Julio has looked promising down the wing for RSL, offering a dangerous 1v1 skillset and lots of pace to get in behind, while also having an eye for goal as he shown with his two strikes this season.
Striker Rubio Rubin, another offseason addition, leads the side with four goals this season, including a spectacular overhead kick against San Jose. The former American international has a habit of popping up in dangerous areas, whether that be running in behind or moving in and around the box to get on the end of service or dribble his way to goal to get a shot off.
The ‘Caps should also be wary of dynamic Croatian midfielder Damir Kreilach (pictured above with 'Caps defender Ranko Veselinovic), as he looks to get forward from his midfield position to set up his teammates or make late runs into the penalty area himself to get a shot on goal. The former Union Berlin man has registered three goals and three assists this season.
Not to mention the Claret and Cobalt also have the creativity of Slovakian playmaker Albert Rusnak, who will look to dictate possession in the final third for his team and won’t be afraid to have a go from distance if space opens up.
Lastly, the ‘Caps could be seeing a new face on RSL’s gameday roster, as American international striker Bobby Wood could make his debut with his new club after arriving from German side Hamburger SV.
CROSSING CHANCES (RSL EDITION)
Of Real Salt Lake’s nine goals this season, five have come from crosses into the area from open play or set pieces.
The aforementioned Kreilach leads the team with goals from crosses thanks to his knack of running late into the box from his midfield position and heading ability.
Rubin also has the ability to drift from defenders and find space in the area, as he’s shown with his overhead kick and a tidy finish against Sporting KC at the start of the season.
But perhaps the most underrated part of RSL’s crossing strategy is the play out wide from fullbacks Andrew Brody and Aaron Herrera.
Brody, 26, has only just began to break into the Claret and Cobalt starting XI after spending several seasons playing regular minutes for the side’s USL Championship affiliate Real Monarchs SLC.
The left back has been preferred over usual starter Donny Toia thanks to his ability to get forward and whip balls into the middle for Rubin and the incoming Kreilach.
Meanwhile, Homegrown right back Herrera also likes to get forward to support Julio on the wing and whip balls into the area, as he has shown so far this season with two assists in four appearances.
The ‘Caps will have to make sure they keep RSL’s wide threats in check and keep free kick opportunities to a minimum if they are to claim all three points at Rio Tinto Stadium.
CROSSING CHANCES (‘CAPS EDITION)
As much as Real Salt Lake have shown their crossing prowess this season, four of the seven goals they’ve conceded have come off crosses into the area.
The ‘Caps have shown their own crossing productivity this season, with goals from Lucas Cavallini, Andy Rose and Cristian Dájome all coming off crosses into the box.
A big part of that have been the quality deliveries into the box from left back Cristian Gutiérrez and winger Deiber Caicedo, with the pair combining for three assists so far this season.
If the two can continue generating crossing opportunities from wide areas and whipping in dangerous balls off set pieces, the ‘Caps could get plenty of chances to capitalize.
One player who could capitalize off those deliveries is new ‘Caps striker Brian White, who scored twice in the Blue and White’s 4-0 friendly victory over Ogden City SC.
White has shown during his time with the New York Red Bulls he doesn’t need a huge look at goal to put the ball in the back of the net, sometimes creating a little bit of magic from nothing.
Sitting in the top 72 percentile of MLS strikers with non-penalty goals per 90 minutes, White could have plenty of chances to open his ‘Caps account in MLS if he makes his debut and the Blue and White can create crossing opportunities from wide areas to claim three crucial points in the Western Conference playoff race.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. PT at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT. You can watch the match live on TSN1 and AM730, with the pre-game radio show starting at 6 p.m. PT.