Vancouver Whitecaps FC
It's not often a side is so privileged as to face the same opponent two weeks in row, but with an unbalanced schedule, there was an air of inevitability to this sort of meeting. Though last time around, RSL took their chances well thanks, in part, to a fine striking performance from Alvaro Saborio, the tables so often turn on the road.
Vancouver Whitecaps, sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference, have been one of the most improved sides in MLS this year, rocketing up from their last-place finish in 2011. With eleven games remaining in the season, they've picked up six more points than in the whole of the previous campaign. Clearer a stronger foe now, the Whitecaps have lost but a single match at home, and our road form hasn't set to world alight. It all shapes up to be a noteworthy occasion.
The statistical run of RSL's road fortunes is bandied about with some regularity, there hasn't been much disparity from last season, when a paltry five games were won on the road. Two more road wins would see the Claret and Cobalt best their road results from last season.
But for all the talk of form, the Caps will be without the services of first-choice goalkeeper Joe Cannon, whose performances have contributed in no small way to Vancouver's successes. His 68 saves this season — enough to put him in third place in the category — won't come into play after his sending off just two weeks ago.
Before talk of threatening a backup keeper can take off — Brad Knighton's not a slouch, though he's never won a regular spot for an MLS side — it should be considered that Real Salt Lake play less in the final third than any other side in MLS relative to total passes. Only 24 percent of RSL's passing comes in the final third, and while that seems to indicate a lack of threat to play, it can be tempered: For every 46.8 successful final third passes, the side finds a goal — an indicator that there is more threat in that vital area of possession.
Keeping the Whitecaps at bay is a difficult task: They're a side that thrives without extensive possession: When they've won, they've averaged only 43 percent possession. With speedy players like Darren Mattocks and Dane Richards — both among the fastest in the league — catching sides on the break has become a routine affair. Strangely, Vancouver has averaged more possession when they lose matches — 51 percent — which won't dictate RSL's playing style, but should inform an awareness of counterattacking threat.
It's certain to be a real test for Kwame Watson-Siriboe — it's one he fared well with last time out against this side — early performances for RSL have been impressive. Having won two-thirds of his duels (a rate that tops the team) and showing an impressive ability to keep possession with safe passing play (92.8 percent — the best rate in the league), the young center back has eased the worries about the missing Olave.
With Jamison Olave falling to a hamstring strain and Chris Schuler still out with a foot bone stress response, the Watson-Siriboe-Borchers connection looks to be one that'll continue for at least the next month, supposing the nasty injury bug floating around the squad doesn't claim either of the two. Knock on wood and all that, right?
The trip off to Canada presents RSL with an opportunity to reclaim some road form, and while things aren't as bad as they may seem at times, there is a real sense floating around that there must be improvement away from the relative comforts of the Rio Tinto. Saturday presents a very real opportunity.
-- Matt Montgomery
One of my favorite moments from Real Salt Lake’s 2-1 win over Vancouver last night came about halfway through the second half, when RSL center back Kwame Watson-Siriboe flat out jumped over ‘Caps forward Darren Mattocks to win a header.
The athletic play caused quite the reaction in the press box, drawing more than a few oohs and aahs and causing a couple of members of the media to sit back in their chairs and straight up laugh.
Watson-Siriboe was his usual down-to-earth self when talking about the play after the game, somewhat downplaying the high-flying header.
“It was a 50-50 ball, Mattocks decided to go in and I just went 100 percent,” he said. “I had to go 100 percent because if I didn’t then there was a possibility of Mattocks hurting me, so as I went up I saw the ball and I just leaped.”
“I was very focused when I landed,” he added. “There was actually a play earlier in the game he elbowed me in the chest so it was kind of a payback where if he wants to go 50-50 and play hard yolu know we can do that
The play was a bit of a role-reversal for Mattocks, who nearly jumped over a Toronto FC defender to score an incredible goal at BMO Field on July 11. That fact wasn’t lost on Watson-Siriboe, who had a little laugh himself when asked if he’d seen the Vancouver attacker’s header against TFC.
“It’s the heat of the moment,” Watson-Siriboe said with a chuckle. “MLS is very athletic and one of my good traits is I guess I have good jumping ability.”
Real Salt Lake’s back four is going to have their hands full with Vancouver attackers Dane Richards and Darren Mattocks at Rio Tinto Stadium on Friday night.
Mattocks and Richards are both blazing fast, capable of flying down the flanks and terrorizing opposing fullbacks. The Jamaican internationals have both had success in recent games, with the recently-acquired Richards scoring the opener in the Whitecaps’ 2-1 win over league-leading San Jose last Sunday and Mattocks bagging two goals – including this incredible high-flying finish – against Toronto on July 11.
The No. 2 overall pick in this year’s SuperDraft, Mattocks leads Vancouver with six goals in just 12 MLS games. Richards – who was acquired from New York earlier this month – has two goals and two assists in 20 league appearances in 2012.
RSL head scout Andy Williams is very familiar with both players, playing with Richards numerous times on the Jamaican national team and following Mattocks closely since the talented rookie’s college days.
“As everyone knows, both of them are really, really fast,” Williams told RealSaltLake.com. “I think Dane is more of a winger and Mattocks is more of a forward who finishes pretty well – his goal scoring record is pretty good. Dane has a lot more experience so I’m pretty sure our guys are used to Dane more than Mattocks. Hopefully tonight we can keep them both contained, because Vancouver really likes to use their speed a lot.”
RSL’s outside backs will be responsible for checking Richards, who – as Williams mentioned – plays as a winger. It will be important for the Claret-and-Cobalt’s fullbacks to keep Richards honest, pushing forward when possible in order to force Richards – who isn’t a very good defender – back into Vancouver’s half.
“The thing with both of them is that they’re not great defenders,” Williams said. “So if our outside backs attack they have to follow. If our fullbacks stay home then you run the risk of both of them staying in behind or getting in on goal.”
Mattocks is a bit of a different animal. He plays more centrally than Richards and will primarily matchup against RSL’s center backs and defensive midfielder. The Claret-and-Cobalt will need to be aware of his darting runs behind the defense and not allow him to turn while on the ball so he can run at goal.
“The center backs will have their hands full,” Williams said, “but I think they’ll match Mattocks."
Less than eight hours left until RSL kicks off against Vancouver at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Just four days left until Real Salt Lake begins its run through the CONCACAF Champions League at C.S. Herediano.
That quick turnaround means you should expect a few changes from the regular lineup for tonight’s league game against Vancouver, with RSL head coach Jason Kreis likely to sit a few of his usual starters with an eye on Tuesday’s Group 2 opener.
A few candidates to start Friday’s match on the bench include team captain Kyle Beckerman, defender Jamison Olave, playmaker Javier Morales and forward Alvaro Saborio. I highly doubt that Kreis will sit all four of those players against the third-place ‘Caps, but with Beckerman playing 34 minutes in Philadelphia in Wednesday’s All-Star game, Olave picking up a slight injury in last weekend’s win over Colorado and with Morales and Saborio logging big minutes thus far in 2012, it’d be naïve to think all four would start.
Putting regulars on the bench would give some reserves a rare opportunity to play significant minutes. Midfielder Sebastian Velasquez and center back Kwame Watson-Siriboe are both candidates for the first XI, as is forward – and Salt Lake City native – Justin Braun, who has yet to make his first appearance for RSL after being acquired from Montreal on July 11.
Let’s hope the reserves are ready. As I’ll go into further detail on later today, Vancouver is a very solid team and the Claret-and-Cobalt will need to put in a strong effort if they want to pick up their third straight home win.