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Vancouver’s road warriors must handle altitude in Utah

Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jake Nerwinski (28) and Real Salt Lake midfielder Sebastian Saucedo (23) battle for the ball in the second half at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps will be on the road once more this weekend. The Caps will face Real Salt Lake on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Heading from the Canadian West Coast into the Rocky Mountains and dealing with the altitude  – Sandy is located at 4,450 feet (1,356 meters) above sea level – will be one of the significant challenges for the Whitecaps this week. Thankfully, there is no snow in the forecast for Saturday.

“It’s a tough place, the altitude … the weather. Last year was probably the coldest game I’ve ever played in my life, to be honest,” said right back Jake Nerwinski.

The Whitecaps ended up losing that match, which was later dubbed the Snow Bowl, 3-0. 

Other than facing the altitude and the weather, the Whitecaps will feel comfortable in their pursuit to revenge last season’s away defeat. The Whitecaps, together with expansion franchise Los Angeles FC,have the best away record in the league this season and have been the best team on the road over the last three seasons combined in the entire league. 

Furthermore, entering the match the Whitecaps (3-1-1, 10 points) are tied in points with Sporting Kansas for first in the Western Conference. How do the Whitecaps keep winning on the road?

“We just go there with the mentality to get three points. Obviously, we can’t get them every time but the majority of the time we have,” forward Brek Shea explained to media this week.

Caps coach Carl Robinson said Wednesday, “We win as a team, and we lose as a team. When things go against you, it’s important that you stick your chest out, you smile and you work hard. And we did that [in our last away game against Columbus]. We didn’t let the disappointment of the goal [against us] affect us, we went again and again. We knew we had a point, but we wanted more.”

Robinson will now face his former teammate Mike Petke on Saturday. The Real Salt Lake head coach was brought in to stabilize a club that failed to make the playoffs last season. But results this season have been inconsistent with RSL managing one draw, one win and two defeats — including a 1-5 beating by LAFC at Rio Tinto and a 3-0 defeat to reigning league champion Toronto FC last weekend.

The result against Toronto, in particular, had Mike Petke fuming.

“The only thing I’m going to say is I know what the problem is, and it’s going to be remedied one way or another, OK,” Petke stated, moments before ripping off his headset in rage and walking out of the broadcast.

The incident shows that Petke is under pressure to deliver, which could see Real Salt Lake take an aggressive approach Saturday. But the Whitecaps have in the past cherished playing against teams trying to control the game aggressively and will, therefore, look in good spirits to add another chapter to their road heroics. 

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