April 22nd, 2024

Confidence key as surging Vancouver Whitecaps get set to face RSL

By Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press on March 22, 2024.

Vancouver Whitecaps' Damir Kreilach (19) stops the ball during the second half of an MLS soccer match against Charlotte FC in Vancouver, on Saturday, March 2, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

VANCOUVER – The surging Vancouver Whitecaps are trying to strike a delicate balance.

With the club on the precipice of a historic start to the season, the ‘Caps (2-0-1) need to harness the momentum of their success without letting it get to their heads, assistant coach Michael D’Agostino said this week.

“We need to be confident, believing what we can do, believing that we can win every single game. But we also can’t have any arrogance at the end of the day,” he said. “We need to make sure that we’re focused on every single detail because every single game in this league is very, very difficult.”

A new franchise record will be within reach as the ‘Caps return to B.C. Place to host Real Salt Lake (1-2-1) on Saturday.

With a 3-1 road win over FC Dallas last week, Vancouver matched its record for the best three games to start a season, set back in 2012. Another victory would see the Whitecaps set a new bar for most points collected through the first four games during the Major League Soccer era.

Vancouver currently sits second in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference standings, two points back of Minnesota United with a game in hand.

“We’ve been saying for the past two years now that we’ve got to have a strong start. And obviously, the past two years, they weren’t very strong starts,” said striker Brian White. “So I think everyone’s pretty excited that it’s so far so good, and especially being on the road and getting six points. So hopefully we can continue that momentum and get another three points at home.”

Each of Vancouver’s six goals this season has been scored by a different player. White – who led the club with 15 goals last season – put away his first of the year in Dallas last week.

Creating many chances has been one of the club’s focuses, he said.

“We’ve been saying since the beginning of the pre-season that we need to flood the box, get numbers in, get crosses in that give us more opportunity to score goals,” White said. “So the more guys we get scoring goals, the more goals that we score, the better chance we have to win. And that’s what’s most important.”

Saturday’s game is set to be a unique one for attacking midfielder Damir Kreilach. The former Real Salt Lake captain joined the ‘Caps at the end of December after playing six seasons in Utah.

“It’s going to be, of course, very emotional because it’s going to be a team at RSL that I have friends for the rest of my life on the team, in the club,” he said. “And it’s going to be a special game.”

Managing each player’s emotions will be key not just Saturday but throughout the rest of the season, said D’Agostino, who’s set to lead the sidelines for a fourth and final game as head coach Vanni Sartini serves out his suspension.

The Italian was sanctioned for his on-field actions and post-game comments following the playoff loss to Los Angeles FC that ended Vancouver’s 2023 campaign in November.

“I think we just need to keep our feet on the ground. We’ve had a good start, but it’s not about the first three games – it’s about all 34,” D’Agostino said. “So managing it game by game and whether it goes well or it doesn’t go well. Just focusing inch by inch and game by game is the most important thing.”

REAL SALT LAKE (1-2-1) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (2-0-1)

SATURDAY, B.C. PLACE

POSSIBLE RETURN: Whitecaps fullback Sam Adekube is listed as questionable as he continues to work his way back from a knee injury. The 29-year-old Canadian said watching the first three games of the season has been difficult. “You obviously want to be there. But it’s just encouraging to see that I’m coming back to a team that’s kicking on all levels,” Adekube said. “Obviously there’s competition for places and that’s what makes the team more successful. It’s definitely exciting to see how well we started and I’m just hoping to add what I can get back.”

ON DUTY: Vancouver will be without forward Fafa Picault (Haiti) and midfielder Andreas Cubas (Paraguay), who have both been called up to their national teams.

GAULD-EN MILESTONE: Captain Ryan Gauld is set to make his 100th appearance for the Whitecaps across all competitions. The 28-year-old Scot has been key to Vancouver’s lineup since joining the club in July 2021. Last season, he put up 11 goals and 12 assists in 32 regular-season games.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2023.

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