Fresh off a tough test in the desert versus Didier Drogba and Phoenix Rising FC, Whitecaps FC 2 visit another MLS hopeful in Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday.
Sitting one point outside the playoff picture, WFC2 face the perennial Western Conference heavyweights, who have a slim one-point edge over the 'Caps in the standings.
Every match is important in the competitive West, where only four points separate fourth-place Reno 1868 FC with 12th-place Oklahoma City Energy FC, meaning a ‘Caps win could conceivably have them jump four teams and move them into a share of sixth in the conference.
WFC2 and SRFC drew their first meeting on April 29 with the goalkeepers stealing the show.
First-team players on the attack
Despite Saturday's defeat in Phoenix, midfielder Marco Bustos continued his goal-scoring streak for the USL side. Bustos now has four goals in four matches, and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Also seeing more time with WFC2 is striker Kyle Greig. Having recently opened his first-team account in the Canadian Championship, the opportunistic goalscorer has started the last two outings in USL play.
Midfielder Ben McKendry continues to come of age in the midfield, leading head coach Rich Fagan's side with 17 shots and 14 created chances.
Goalkeeping the story again?
As mentioned above, the last time WFC2 and Republic FC met, the clubs played to a 0-0 draw that saw multiple offensive opportunities for each side. Interestingly, their final meeting last season ended in a scoreless draw as well. Ultimately, both offenses were outdone by superb goalkeeping.
Spencer Richey and Evan Newton recorded the clean sheet for their respective sides in the last two clashes.
The Vancouver backline is headed by captain Sem de Wit, who has been a thorn on the opposing attack all year, leading WFC2 with 39 interceptions and 57 duels won.
Another defensive battle may be in the cards on Saturday night.
The 2017 season could not have started any better for SRFC, with three straight wins out of the gate, and confidence at an all-time high.
Since then, one win in their last 10, and an overall record of 4W-6L-3D. Last season’s Western Conference leaders are going to need to change their course to repeat last season's success.
They may have made gotten their signature win on Wednesday evening when they defeated MLS side Real Salt Lake 4-1 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Without the suspended Danny Barrera (one goal and three assists in USL play, one goal and two assists vs. RSL), Sacramento will rely on the capable Sammy Ochoa (four goals and three assists in USL play, did not play vs. RSL). Republic FC enter Saturday evening either energized by a huge upset win, or fatigued after a quick turnaround.
Kickoff goes at 8 p.m. PT from Papa Murphy’s Park in Sacramento.
Whitecaps FC 2 are back home on Saturday, June 24 when they host Oklahoma City Energy FC at UBC Thunderbird Stadium for Community Day. Visit whitecapsfc2.com for tickets.