BURNABY, B.C. – With only one win in their last six games, a victory for the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday against visiting Real Salt Lake is even a more important than usual (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference with 34 points and entering the final third of the season, claiming all three points could help the team surge to its first-ever MLS Cup playoff berth.
Alternatively, if the recent dropoff continues, that seemingly safe eight point buffer between sixth-place Chivas USA and the ‘Caps could evaporate fairly rapidly.
HIGHLIGHTS: RSL 2, VAN 1
“Real Salt Lake, for many years, has been one of the top teams in this league,” captain Jay DeMerit told reporters at Swangard Stadium on Thursday. “They’re always a force to be reckoned with.”
Two weeks ago, DeMerit made the highlight reels for the wrong reasons in a 2-1 loss to Salt Lake. First, he handled in the box to concede a first-half penalty, and then underhit a back pass late in the game which led to the dismissal of Joe Cannon, who handled the ball outside of his box to prevent Fabián Espíndola getting a clear scoring opportunity.
The uncharacteristic errors from Vancouver’s skipper were likely spurred by exhaustion given his 90-minute All-Star performance just two days before and a 13-hour airport delay, so getting a crack at RSL with a rested body should give DeMerit a fair shot at redemption.
“You need to get up against them and compete first and foremost,” DeMerit said. “If you don’t, they’re going to hurt you. It’ll be nice to get them back to BC Place and get them on our turf. So, hopefully we go and do the right things, and take our chances this time.”
Keeping Álvaro Saborío off the scoresheet will be a key part in any success – the Costa Rican was clinical with his chances when the team’s last met two weeks ago, scoring a brace.
“He is a good player and he’s very dangerous,” head coach Martin Rennie said. “We must make sure we’re switched on because it only takes one or two chances for a player of that quality to punish you. We must make sure we’re focused on the whole game and make sure we’re defending well the whole game.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.