SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake have a chance to accomplish their top priority this season of a seventh consecutive playoff berth on Saturday in Vancouver (5 pm MT; CW30, TSN2 in Canada).
Exactly what team RSL will send out to take on the Whitecaps, however, is unclear.
Head coach Jeff Cassar – obviously – isn't giving his starting lineup away before the game. But his team clearly isn't fond of the artificial playing surface at BC Place.
“For us, it's hard on the body, and the bounce isn't as true,” defender Chris Wingert told reporters. “And if you're not used to it, it's probably a little bit of an advantage for the home team. But it just is what it is. No big deal. We've had some success on turf, and it's not something that we can be too concerned about.”
Almost exactly a year ago, then-coach Jason Kreis rested most of his starters and took what was essentially a B-team to Vancouver and eked out a 1-0 win. Cassar hinted that he might do something similar on Saturday.
“We need a result. We're going to put the best team out there that we feel is going to give us a result,” he said. “But at the same time, we have to be smart, since we're getting toward the end of the year. But I feel very confident in the team that we're going to be put on the field.”
RSL need at least a point against the Whitecaps on Saturday to become the third team in the Western Conference – after Seattle and LA – to secure a playoff berth. It’s a priority of the Claret-and-Cobalt to get that out of the way as quickly as possible.
“Absolutely,” Wingert said. “You want to get that goal accomplished and move on to the next one, which would be – hopefully – finishing in the top three, but one step at a time. We definitely want to clinch a playoff berth, and then as you continue to get closer to the playoffs maybe allow the management to play around with minutes a little bit and get guys healthy and things like that.”
RSL have made no secret that they’re fighting to finish in the top three of the conference, but Vancouver also have plenty to play for. The Whitecaps are in sixth place, two points out of the final playoffs spot.
“This is going to be a tough game for sure,” RSL defender Nat Borchers told reporters. “These guys have their backs up against the wall, and it just means they're going to be that much more aggressive.”
Which, RSL's coach believes, could work to his team's advantage.
“I would anticipate, going at home, they're not going to sit back,” Cassar said. “They need points. They're at home. They have to get three points. Vancouver doesn't sit back too much. Well, they tend to sit back a little bit, but their front three tend to stay a little bit higher.
“Which is good for them. But if we're organized as we're building up, I think we can shut that down.”
And if Real Salt Lake do indeed get a result on Saturday, Cassar will be getting a rather severe haircut. Four months ago, he revealed that he made a bet with goalkeepers coach Daryl Shore that if the team made the playoffs, he would shave his head. Cassar told MLSsoccer.com he'd abide by the bet.
“Oh, boy. I actually haven't even been thinking about that. I guess so,” he said with a sigh. “I mean, I have to keep my word.
“My wife's not happy about it, but it's alright.”