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Vancouver Whitecaps hope for improved chemistry against Real Salt Lake

Apr 8, 2017; Sandy, UT, USA; Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jake Nerwinski (28) takes a shot on goal against Real Salt Lake midfielder Demar Phillips (17) in the second half at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

While the Vancouver Whitecaps lost their season opener 2-3 against Minnesota United, there were plenty of positives from the game. Positives the Whitecaps hope will be at the forefront when they travel to Utah, where they face Real Salt Lake at 6 p.m. ET Saturday.

Individual mistakes were the main problem for the Whitecaps against Minnesota.

“Our decision making and possession, we rushed too much. And maybe anxiety. Guys waiting for this game meant that it became a game that was not about us,” Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos said after the Minnesota game.

In general, the Whitecaps’ biggest problem against Minnesota was finding chemistry in Dos Santos’ new 4-3-3 setup that heavily favors possession football. That’s natural following a winter in which the club made 15 new signings.

The Caps are hopeful an additional week of training with the full squad will help with some of the problems they experienced on opening day. 

“There were pockets in the game that we didn’t look like it was the first time we were together. So, you have to take the positives of the game, reinforce them, not be delusional and go back to the negative things, and show the players through video and address them,” Dos Santos explained earlier this week.

One of the main problems for the Whitecaps has not just been the integration of many new players, but also a general switch of philosophy. Under former coach Carl Robinson, the Whitecaps usually sat deep and tried to hit teams on the counterattack. Dos Santos, however, prefers possession-based football with a high defensive line and an aggressive press. 

Dos Santos admitted his side still struggles with some of those aspects.

“Yeah, they have a little difficulty dealing with that,” he said. “It’s a work in process, but it’s what we want to do eventually has a club. We have some references that are important, and when they happen we have to go and revisit them. And then make sure that all the players that are here, get into that boat, and eventually always recruit towards those kinds of players.” 

Speaking of recruitment. The Whitecaps had to play defender Derek Cornelius as a left back against Minnesota. 

“It was disappointing because we wanted to obviously start off on a better note, but we’re all professionals, we know that’s how the game goes sometimes, so we’re not going to sit and think about too much. We’re just going to move forward,” Cornelius said this week. 

Help in that position is supposed to be on the way. The Whitecaps are close to signing Iraqi left-back Ali Adnan. But a deal is likely not to be completed until early next week.

Furthermore, with Brett Levis still out with an injury either Cornelius or Brazilian Victor “PC” Giro will start in that position against Real Salt Lake. But while Cornelius is more of a centerback, PC is more of an attacking wingback, more interested in playing attacking football rather than in his defensive duties. 

Like in most leagues, playing on the road is difficult and requires a more defensive approach.

“[Real Salt Lake] are a team that is very dangerous in the counterattack and has very fast pieces we need to be aware of that. We need to be aware when we’re in possession of where those pieces are. When we lose the ball, they could break. That’s one of their strengths, for sure,” Dos Santos said about the challenges of playing against Real Salt Lake. 

At the same time, Dos Santos is aware that collecting points on the road is critical if the Whitecaps want to make their way back into the playoffs.

“Yeah, you need to do points on the road, for sure. And that doesn’t mean that you’ll win all the time,” Dos Santos concluded. 

So, a more defensive approach could be in store for the Whitecaps when they visit a Real Salt Lake side that held Houston Dynamo to a 1-1 draw on the road in Texas last week. Coached by Mike Petke, the Claret and Cobalt as a unit have played together for some time and reached the Western Conference MLS Cup semifinals in 2019. 

One wild card, for both clubs, could be the weather. Snowfall is projected for both Friday and Saturday, which could throw any gameplan drawn up by Dos Santos — who wants to play short passes, limit long balls and focus on buildup play — straight out of the window.

For some Whitecaps, it will be familiar territory. The Caps played a game in heavy snowfall at RSL’s Rio Tinto Stadium 23 months ago when they visited on April 8, 2017. Jake Nerwinski, Russell Teibert, who is back from injury, and forward Fredy Montero were on the pitch that fateful afternoon in a game the Caps lost 3-0. 

 

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