It’s early days and the season is long, but there are some pretty positive things coming from the Vancouver Whitecaps.

In three matches, they have posted a 2W-0L-1D record. Both wins have come on the road against Western Conference opposition.

This weekend, the Whitecaps return to BC Place for the beginning of a four-match home stint.

First up? Real Salt Lake.

This is a very even matchup over the years. In 31 total matches, both clubs have won 13. Five have ended in a draw.

But last season, Real Salt Lake did the double against the Whitecaps, winning both the home and away matches with a score of 2-1.

Winning in different ways

What has stood out from the wins in San Jose and Dallas is that the Whitecaps can stay true to the formation and philosophy as designed by head coach Vanni Sartini and his staff but find different ways to win.

Against the San Jose Earthquakes, the Whitecaps started compact and structured. They may not have offered much of anything going forward in the first 45 minutes, but for all of San Jose’s early possession, they had nothing to show for it.

The added punch of Alessandro Schöpf and Ali Ahmed served to push the game in Vancouver’s favour. It was a late flourish but one they were able to capitalize on because they forced the Earthquakes to abandon their first-half gameplan and become more expansive and riskier to gain anything from the match.

The added space created for the Whitecaps gave them something to exploit and fresh legs took advantage of it.

Against FC Dallas, the Whitecaps began on the front foot. In stark contrast to the San Jose match, Vancouver pushed early and exploited the wide space down the wings.

All three goals came in the first half, and all came from wide players moving the ball to teammates inside the 18-yard box.

It was positive. It was dominant. It was entertaining.

Two wins on the road, both achieved in different ways.

Where the Whitecaps can succeed against Real Salt Lake

RSL loves to hold the ball. Their average possession per match is 56.5 per cent, fourth in the league. But they do not have much to show for it.

Much of their play in the attack is run through either Carlos Gomez or Cristian Arango. Both have had decent starts to the season with a couple of goals apiece.

The two have good chemistry together. But it is also their Achilles’ heel. Take one out of the match, and you essentially take out both.

As Gomez often is seen playing down the right, the Whitecaps’ left wingback is the likely candidate to shut him down.

So, who do you play there against Gomez?

The best way to stop Gomez is to cut off all service. And surprisingly, both Luís Martins and Ryan Raposo fit the bill so far this year.

Martins is second on the Whitecaps for interceptions per 90 minutes at 2.6. Raposo is third at 2.5. Add to this a player like Andrés Cubas, who marginally tops them both at 2.7 and Gomez can be isolated (especially given that Sartini loves to have players from different lines be involved together).

On attack, the Whitecaps will bring back Damir Kreilach. Real Salt Lake is his former team, and he will want to prove himself. Fafà Picault is also away on international duty with the Haitian national team.

This means that Brian White will likely be pushed out to wider areas again as Kreilach takes the centre space.

Real Salt Lake’s defence has looked disorganized at times this year. But at least some of that can be put on head coach Paulo Mastroeni who has used three different centre-back partnerships in four matches so far.

Of Real Salt Lake’s centre-backs Justen Glad, who featured in the first three matches, has been dealing with a hamstring issue. He remains questionable for this weekend.

Mastroeni also went to his bench last match against Colorado Rapids, switching his goalkeepers and starting 18-year-old Gavin Beavers. But do not expect that against the Whitecaps; Zac MacMath will be back between the sticks.


Sam Adekugbe should be back in contention for selection. He has been out for a while with patellar tendinopathy, so do not expect him to be rushed back into the starting XI. But he is definitely ready to come off the bench.

Kickoff is on Mar. 23 at 4:30 p.m. Pacific.