SANDY — It’s time to walk the tightrope.
With its well-stated goal of staging a successful run during CONCACAF Champions League action less than five days away, Real Salt Lake must find a way to weigh that against a key home-pitch contest against Vancouver.
Salt Lake hosts the Whitecaps in a rare Friday night home match, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. tonight at Rio Tinto Stadium.
With just three days of rest, which will include a lengthy day of travel to Heredia, Costa Rica, RSL boss Jason Kreis will be forced into a high-wire balancing act in terms of minutes distribution for key players.
One of the biggest question marks will be midfielder Kyle Beckerman. Beckerman played roughly 34 minutes during Wednesday night’s MLS All-Star match vs. Chelsea FC in Philadelphia, before making the cross-country flight home Thursday.
It’s a sure bet that Kreis had a specific number of minutes played in mind in terms of what he can expect from Beckerman for tonight’s contest, but given the amount of time played and travel, it’s probably doubtful that RSL’s All-Star goes the distance, if he plays at all.
Yordany Alvarez started in Beckerman’s place in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Colorado, although the Rapids’ uninspired 4-5-1 formation didn’t produce a significant amount of tactical pressure, something that is likely to be quite different against Vancouver.
Central defender Jamison Olave is likely another question mark top play tonight, given that he didn’t play the full 90 during Saturday’s win over Colorado as he rebounds from injury. Olave wasn’t listed on RSL’s probable lineup for tonight’s match, meaning that Kreis is probably leaning, at least for now, toward resting his strongest defender in preparation for Tuesday’s CONCACAF opener.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe played the final half-hour in Olave’s place on Saturday, and has started twice in Salt Lake’s central defense, making him the logical choice to plug in at the back.
In terms of substitutions, Kreis will probably be quicker to his bench than in a typical match, especially with his core attacking players if Real opens up a lead.
Team newcomer, and Salt Lake City native, Justin Braun could get a potential start in one of Real’s two forward positions, or at least come on as a substitute for the final 30-40 minutes.
Salt Lake and Vancouver split two matches during the Whitecaps last season, with each winning at home. This is the first of three meetings between the two.