Vancouver Whitecaps FC get ready for Real Salt Lake and Manchester City FC

Playing the first of three matches in five days, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-10L-8D) host Western Conference rivals Real Salt Lake (8W-3L-6D) in Major League Soccer action on Saturday afternoon.

This weekend’s match on Bell Pitch at Empire Field will be the only league game to be played on natural grass at Whitecaps FC’s current home, with the new playing surface being installed this week ahead of next Monday’s international friendly match versus England’s Manchester City FC. Tom Soehn’s side face a big challenge in trying to end their four-match losing streak in the league, as Jason Kreis’ squad are considered one of the favourites for this season’s MLS Cup title.

Saturday’s match between Whitecaps FC and Real Salt Lake at Empire Field is set for 1 p.m. PT.

WHITECAPS FC

With the summer international transfer window opening up for a month on Friday, Soehn has already been busy re-tooling his squad in the past week. Left fullback Jordan Harvey was the first to arrive from Philadelphia Union in exchange for allocation money. Despite his addition, the defender will have to wait for his Vancouver home debut after picking up his fifth booking of the season in last Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Harvey’s former club Colorado Rapids. On Tuesday, Whitecaps FC created MLS history when they made striker Mustapha Jarju the first African-born Designated Player (DP) in the league. The Gambian international received his International Transfer Certificate today and will be available for selection this weekend. On Thursday, the ‘Caps traded midfielder Terry Dunfield to Canadian rivals Toronto FC for allocation money and future considerations. The Vancouver native moves to the Southern Ontario outfit after less than a year with his hometown club.

While the ‘Caps will have a new look to their squad from this weekend, they could be boosted by the probable return of playmaker Davide Chiumiento and striker Eric Hassli. Youngster Omar Salgado (hamstring) and experienced MLS midfielder John Thorrington (calf) are also listed as probable for the visit of Salt Lake. Winger Russell Teibert (hip flexor) is questionable for Saturday’s home match, while captain Jay DeMerit (adductor strain) is doubtful to face the Utah-based outfit. Striker Atiba Harris remains on the sidelines, as he continues his recovery from surgery to his right knee.

REAL SALT LAKE

Considered one of the favourites for the MLS Cup title this season, Real Salt Lake have some ground to make up with their matches in hand after spending the early part of this campaign flying the flag high for MLS in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League. Currently sitting fourth in the Western Conference standings, Kreis’ squad come to Vancouver on the back of a six-match unbeaten streak (2W-0L-4D), which included last Saturday’s important 2-0 home win over high-flying FC Dallas. The Texas-based outfit avenged that league defeat by beating RSL 2-0 at home in Tuesday’s quarterfinal clash in this year’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

Boasting one of the strongest squads in MLS, Salt Lake have plenty of experience in every position on the pitch, though Kreis is currently juggling several injury concerns going into Saturday’s game. Midfielder Javier Morales will not be seen at Empire Field this weekend, as the Argentine is out for the season with a fracture and dislocation to his left ankle. Former Miami FC striker Paulo Araujo Jr. is also sidelined with a hamstring problem. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando (ankle) and defender Robbie Russell (adductor strain) are listed as questionable, while four players are listed as probable for the club’s maiden trip to Canada’s west coast. They include defender Rauwshan McKenzie (lower back spasms), as well as strikers Arturo Alvarez (hamstring), Fabian Espíndola (hamstring), and Álvaro Saborío (knee).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Whitecaps FC and Real Salt Lake met in MLS for the first time on June 4 in Sandy, Utah. In what was Soehn’s second match as Whitecaps FC head coach, RSL deservedly took all three points with a first-half goal from Jean Alexandre and a second-half strike from Espindola at Rio Tinto Stadium. Before this season, both the ‘Caps and Salt Lake met in preseason friendly action in Casa Grande, Arizona. As a USSF D-2 Pro League side, Whitecaps FC defeated RSL 2-1 at Grande Sports World on February 20, 2010. As an MLS outfit this preseason, goals by Dunfield and Teibert earned Vancouver a 2-1 victory over Salt Lake at Grande Sports World on February 1.

While there is limited playing history between the two clubs, there are many connections between Vancouver and Salt Lake. Soehn and Kreis were teammates at FC Dallas (then known as Dallas Burn) from 1996 to 1998. ‘Caps goalkeeper Jay Nolly started his professional career in Salt Lake before being acquired by Soehn at D.C. United, along with allocation money and future considerations, in exchange for Rimando and USA international Freddy Adu. RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy played with Pete Vagenas at LA Galaxy, while RSL’s Alexandre, Araujo, and Tim Melia all played against Vancouver at the North American second division level. From 2005 to 2010, Whitecaps FC head athletic trainer Jake Joachim was a member of the staff at Salt Lake.

THEN COMES MANCHESTER CITY

Following Saturday’s MLS clash with Real Salt Lake, Whitecaps FC play host to English Premier League giants Manchester City FC in an international friendly match as part of the Herbalife World Football Challenge 2011 at Empire Field on Monday evening at 7 p.m. PT. Manchester City.

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