Vancouver Whitecaps fighting for playoff position on U.S. road trip

Vancouver Whitecaps fighting for playoff position on U.S. road trip

VANCOUVER — Ranko Veselinovic has pinballed around North America during his brief tenure with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Serbian defender bounced from Vancouver to a tournament in Orlando to an all-Canadian series in Toronto and Montreal, and back again. Now the ‘Caps are headed south of the border for at least three games as COVID-19 restrictions continue to complicate an already punishing Major League Soccer schedule.

Veselinovic, who came to Vancouver (4-7-0) on loan from the Serbian SuperLiga in February, admits all the travel has been “a shock.”

“But we are young guys, we can manage. So far it’s good. The flights are comfortable, the conditions when we stay in hotels are perfect, the pitches are good,” the 21 year old said. “I’m coming from Serbia, so for me, everything is perfect here.”

Vancouver’s latest road swing will begin in Utah Saturday against Real Salt Lake (3-3-5).

The ‘Caps, riding high after a convincing 3-1 home victory against the Montreal Impact on Wednesday, are looking to put together their first win streak of the season.

“It’s something that we want. Not only back-to-back (wins), but back to back to back and keep going,” coach Marc Dos Santos told reporters on Friday.

Vancouver’s defence was strong Wednesday, limiting Montreal to four shots on goal.

Veselinovic said the performance was a full-team effort.

“It’s easier for us in the back line when we have aggressive forwards and aggressive wingers,” he said. “Defence isn’t just two fullbacks and two centrebacks. The whole team has to play defence.”

Last season saw a pair of tightly contested matches between the Whitecaps and Salt Lake. Each ended in a 1-0 victory for RSL.

This time around, Salt Lake is coming off the worst home loss in club history, having dropped a 5-0 decision to the Colorado Rapids last weekend.

“They’re definitely going to want to answer in the right way. So we’re aware of that and we’re going to have to be ready,” Dos Santos said.

The coach noted that RSL have traditionally been deadly in transition when they win the ball, and are known to be good on set plays.

The ‘Caps know what they’re up against heading into Utah and will need to execute their game plan, Dos Santos said.

“We need to exploit the spaces of Salt Lake with our weapons and speed that we have up front with the players that we have in our attacking third,” he said.

Vancouver will have an important piece back in its arsenal, with striker Lucas Cavallini expected to return to the lineup. A suspension kept the 27-year-old Canadian out of Wednesday’s game.

Fredy Montero took up the attack for the ‘Caps in his first start of the season and put up two goals and an assist in the 3-1 win.

While the Whitecaps weathered a three-game losing skid last month, the team currently sits just two points out of playoff position — and two points below Real Salt Lake in the MLS Western Conference standings.

The road trip will also see Vancouver face Los Angeles FC and the Portland Timbers, who each have three more points than the ‘Caps and sit above the playoff bar.

Taking home points will be crucial this trip, Dos Santos said.

“We’re in a position to go there where we’re fighting very closely with a lot of teams for a playoff spot. And we want to continue fighting and not use the excuse of always being on the road,” he said. “Because we think we have a chance here.”

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (4-7-0) at REAL SALT LAKE (3-3-5)

Saturday, Rio Tinto Stadium

MISSING MARTINEZ: Salt Lake will be without forward Douglas Martinez, who picked up a red card in last week’s loss to Colorado.

GIVING IT 100: Vancouver midfielder Russell Teibert connected on all of his 71 passes in Wednesday’s win.

HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: Real Salt Lake has won the past four meetings between the two teams at Rio Tinto Stadium.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2020.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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