Vancouver Whitecaps' Carl Robinson served up a tactical masterclass down in Sandy, Utah on Saturday night. Gone was the usual 4-2-3-1 formation, to be replaced with what amounted to three defensive midfielders on occasions, splitting to form a diamond midfield at others.
It was introduced at short notice and it worked "to a tee" as Robinson said afterwards, as the Whitecaps played out a defensive first half before controlling play in the second.
A fine Darren Mattocks header ten minutes from time was the difference between the two sides, as Vancouver left Rio Tinto with three points and Salt Lake finished the game with nine men.
Robinson made four changes to the team that lost to San Jose last week, with the enforced one of the suspended Pedro Morales being the most significant one.
Vancouver had a lucky escape four minutes in when Pa Modou Kah completely misjudged a long ball forward allowing Alvaro Saborio to run in on goal, but the Costa Rican's wild shot flew wide right.
RSL threatened again in the 16th minute when David Ousted had to get down quickly to keep out Jordan Allen's low shot from the edge of the box.
Vancouver had a good spell of pressure midway through the half that kept Salt Lake penned in for a couple of minutes, but once again they failed to muster a single shot on target during the first 45 minutes.
It was very much a stop-start half, with neither side able to get into any kind of groove.
The second half at least had some flow to it, as Vancouver dominated possession, but without threatening the Salt Lake goal.
Saborio was allowed a free header eight yards out in the 63rd for RSL, but directed it straight at Ousted and Vancouver responded with a long range Nicolas Mezquida effort that flew over and then Octavio Rivero couldn't get a good bounce and hit over as well.
Recent games between the two sides have been feisty affairs and when Russell Teibert picked up a yellow card in the 5th minute, you had to think we were in for another chippy night. But it wasn't to be a dirty game.
That all changed in the 76th minute when RSL sub Sebastian Saucedo saw a straight red for a horrendous tackle on 'Caps sub Mauro Rosales that left the Argentine writhing in agony on his first game back after injury, with the Salt Lake player's studs going into the top of his foot.
Vancouver made their man advantage pay just four minutes later when a Sam Adekugbe pass was deflected into the path of Russell Teibert and the Canadian whipped in a perfect cross on to the head of Mattocks, who rose superbly to head what was to be the winning goal past Nick Rimando.
RSL went down to nine men in the final minute of normal time when Jamison Olave picked up his second yellow of the match after tripping Mattocks.
With six minutes of stoppage time RSL actually had some of their best pressure of the game, but the Caps also had a couple of chances to add to their tally.
In the end Vancouver held out comfortably for their third away win of the season and their fourth clean sheet. The Whitecaps have also still only allowed one goal on the road all season.
With three of their next four MLS games at home, the 'Caps will be looking to strengthen their lead at the top of the standings, before the tough summer schedule kicks in.
FINAL SCORE: Real Salt Lake 0 - 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
ATT: 20,414 sell out
SALT LAKE: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran (John Stertzer 83), Jamsion Olave, Elias Vasquez, Demar Phillips; Kyle Beckerman, Luke Mulholland (Devon Sandoval 88), Luis Gil; Jordan Allen (Sebastian Saucedo 64), Alvaro Saborio, Olmes Garcia [subs Not Used: Jeff Attinella, Aaron Maund, Abdoulie Mansally, Wellington Paeckart]
VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Steven Beitashour, Kendall Waston, Pa Modou Kah, Sam Adekugbe; Gershon Koffie, Matias Laba, Darren Mattocks (Erik Hurtado 90), Nicolas Mezquida (Mauro Rosales 71), Russell Teibert; Octavio Rivero [subs Not Used: Paolo Tornaghi, Jordan Harvey, Deybi Flores, Kekuta Manneh, Robert Earnshaw]
Overall thoughts on game:
“It’s a good result for us. We come here with a game plan and made some tactical adjustments prior to the game and it worked to a T, so we’ll take the 3 points.”
On Vancouver’s formation:
“We just made one or two adjustments. Obviously playing two forwards was a plan we wanted to use. We know Salt Lake are a very good attacking team, and like to get their fullbacks high. We just thought that maybe we could isolate the center back to certain areas. It was 60 odd minutes. They cancelled us and we cancelled them. As the game opened up a little bit, then obviously we were lucky enough to take our chance and they didn’t take their chance.”
On the overall play on the road:
“My team has got character. Sometimes the performance levels aren’t what they should be, but character, heart, grit and determination was absolutely spot on in there and that gets results sometimes, and today I think it got us a result. It was fantastic individual performances. Today, and sometimes football isn’t pretty I’m afraid, and when it’s not pretty it’s important that you get something out of the game. That’s what we did today.”
On using versatility to find a win:
“It’s very important. Whenever you come to Salt Lake, and our records speak for themselves, we have never won here. That’s credit to Salt Lake, because they’re so good at home. We knew it was going to be a difficult game, and as I said, I tactically adjusted it and set up the game plan. But I got to give my players credit today, because we spoke about it yesterday for the first time about how we were going to play, and they took the information on board. I know they’re fantastic individuals and they’re talented players, but what I learned today is they’re smart players as well and the next stage of us continuing development. We got a long way to go. We enjoyed it today, but we will get back to work on Monday, because we got a big home game next week.”
On Darren Mattocks stepping up the defensive side:
“He’s worked his socks off today. Not just Darren, but every single player on my team and you’re going to have to do that, especially in places like Salt Lake. We did it today. He got his reward with a goal and as the game opened up, and obviously the referee made one or two decisions which changed the flow and the dynamic of the game. It opened up and we could have got another one or two, but the difference, we took our chances. They didn’t take their chances.”
Thoughts on the match:
“Great result for us. We talk about making history and we had the opportunity to do so tonight. We took a chance playing a different formation and we adapted well and showed how intelligent our squad is and how we are willing to work in whatever formation our manager puts us in. We have never won here before so not only is it a big win tonight but it is also a big win for our club."
Thoughts on the match:
“Great shift defensively. Third win on the road in eight games. That's amazing. We have a bunch of guys that are so talented, but we are also willing to put in the work defensively even though that's not always fun to do.”
On Teibert's contribution to the winning goal:
“Russell Teibert. What a hard working great player he is for us.”
REAL SALT LAKE
On the officiating:
“It is what it is. Sometimes, when you leave your feet like that, you leave yourself susceptible for the referee to make an impact the way he did. So there are definitely coaching points there. This game isn’t about the officiating for sure.”
On what he wants to see differently from his team:
“I thought we started off well. We started off aggressive, and then we maybe just took our foot off of the gas a little bit. I thought that a goal was coming, and when you’re getting that momentum you want to keep pushing and pressing for that goal. I thought we kind of maybe took our foot off of the gas a little bit. We have areas to improve on. I’m super proud of the effort from the guys tonight, but we need to improve on some things.”
On Vancouver’s goal:
“It was really a broken play. We were actually in good spots. They went to cross the ball and Luke [Mulholland] made a good effort to stop a penetrating ball. It goes off of his shin, down into the corner, and they get a cross. It was a bit of a broken play, maybe where we took a bit of a mental lapse. I have to go back and look at it, but we were all in good spots when the play happened, it was just that when it deflected off Luke, everything kind of went south from there.”
On if he plans on appealing either red card:
“We’ll have to look at it. I don’t know what to say on those right now. I want to stay positive. We had two red cards, they had none, and they could have had a few of them. But we’re not talking about them; I’m not going there. It’s just teaching points. You’re leaving it at the mercy of the referee, and that’s not always a good thing.”
On why he subbed offensively at the end:
“We were losing. We had to try to get as many goal scorers and size on the field that we could, and still keep speed on the field. Credit to the guys, they really kept pushing all the way to the end. I thought the subs worked out well for that fact, but we just couldn’t get it in the back of the net.”
On his red card:
“I didn’t intentionally try to tackle him. Obviously I can’t argue about getting a red card. If it’s a red card, then it’s a red card. And I can’t argue about it or anything like that. I tried to get the ball and I tried to do it as cleanly as possible, but it led to something else. I can take the blame for getting a red card and obviously it led to their goal. It’s something that I have to overcome. It’s my first opportunity to play more minutes in a game and it just went by really quickly with the red card, so we’ll see what happens in the future.”
On if he was pleased with the officiating tonight:
“Pleased? No. We felt hard done by. As the home team, you know fifty-fifties usually go in favor of the home team, didn’t feel like we got that tonight. Then the first challenge that happened at the end of the first half, when a Vancouver player had on our player kind of set the tone for the game; if they can do that then we should be able to get away with the Saucedo tackle. We felt like we were hard done by. I didn’t think that both tackles were great but I think that one was worse than the other.”
On helping teammate Sebastian Saucedo cope with his red card:
“Yeah it’s a teaching moment, he came in here tonight and he looked really distraught. He feels like he has let the team down. But as a player we just remind him that tonight is done with. We like to see the fight in him. We know he is not a malicious player so it’s a bit unlucky. I guess he just wanted it too much. You can’t really go in like that. Like I say, he is young and inexperienced. But he will learn and grow from those decisions.”
On how he felt that he played personally tonight:
“I’m starting to enjoy the position alongside Kyle. Giving him the freedom to go forward and I’ll fill in for him. Otherwise, a lot of teams will not really worry about Kyle. We’re finding a balance of giving and staying. But yeah, I’m enjoying it. Kyle is great player and especially when you have Javi or Luis in front of us I don’t think that there is a better midfield three. The key in tonight’s game was to get the ball out wide to Tony or Jordan. We have to do that quickly. It felt like they were going to be the ones to win the game for us, players like Phillips. They were creating better chances for us.”
On the red card suffered by Sebastian Saucedo:
“It’s a tough moment for sure. In a situation like that where he is playing at home, and he’s home town kid, and he is a very talented kid. That’s soccer. There are highs and lows. I remember my first year we were playing in Kansas City, it was the 80-somehting minute, I get an own goal and we lose one to nothing. Soccer is about perspective. That is not going to be the theme of his career. He’s going to go on and be a very, very good player in MLS. So, this will be a learning opportunity for him.”
On giving up a goal with only one shot on goal allowed tonight:
“It was unfortunate the way it happened. We were in great defensive shape, Luke makes a great play and it just goes to their wide guy who puts in a good ball. Maybe unlucky there, we can always get better defensively. Maybe on another night we finish one of our chances. It’s early in the season. The goals will come. I have the utmost confidence in our forwards. So we’ll just ride this out and get better.”
On the overall game:
“Yeah I think it was tough, I’ve seen a lot of weird nights. But that happens. But the game was very stop-and-start. There were a lot of ticky-tacky fouls that the ref was calling. There really wasn’t a flow. It’s a shame because sometimes it takes away from the spectacle and it makes it hard for teams to get into a rhythm and I think that that played into Vancouver’s advantage tonight.”