Real Salt Lake-Whitecaps FC Preview

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Real Salt Lake is already in the playoffs, but there’s still something to play for on Decision Day.

Salt Lake eyes a second straight victory and potentially a top-four finish in the Western Conference on Sunday, when they try to end their road issues against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

It’s been somewhat of a trying season for RSL (15-13-5). Considering, coach Mike Petke was sacked during the summer for a racist-tinged rant toward a game official and general manager Craig Waibel parted ways with the club last week after he reportedly became critical of the franchise in the wake of Petke’s fate.

Still, Salt Lake has delivered on the pitch, for the most part. RSL halted an 0-2-1 stretch with a 3-1 home victory over Houston last weekend. Corey Baird (five goals) scored in the first minute and Jefferson Savarino (eight goals) put the hosts ahead for good in the 75th minute.

The result clinched a playoff berth and left Salt Lake fifth in the West, but just one point behind the fourth-place Los Angeles Galaxy for a top-four finish in the conference. More importantly, the first-round playoff home game that comes with finishing in that position.

“Let’s focus on how we’re going to beat Vancouver, so we can maybe have a chance to maybe host a (playoff) game,” interim coach Freddy Juarez told Salt Lake’s official website.

“It’s important that (clinching a playoff berth) is out of the way, the pressures of the must-win. Now, we can really put a focus on how far up the standings (we can get).”

Salt Lake also must focus on improving its play on the road, where the club is 3-9-4 and totaled one goal while going 0-2-1 since winning at Sporting Kansas City on Aug. 10. RSL has been even worse while losing six in a row at Vancouver, and managing just four goals during that slide.

The Whitecaps (8-15-10), last in the West, fell 1-0 at RSL back in March when Albert Rusnak (10 goals) scored off a 21st-minute penalty kick to ultimately give the home side the victory.

Vancouver, though, improved to 2-0-1 over its last three games following a stunning 4-3 road win over the Galaxy last weekend.

Vancouver got goals from Doneil Henry, Theo Bair, Tosaint Ricketts and Michaell Chirinos’ winner in the 93rd minute to shock the heavily favored Galaxy and win on the road for just the third time in 2019.

“We’re coming together now, and it’s something to look forward to in 2020,” Bair told the Whitecaps’ official website.

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