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Real Salt Lake heads north of border to face reeling Vancouver

Real Salt Lake defender Marcelo Silva (30) kicks the ball during Real Salt Lake's matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, April 7, 2018, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.
Real Salt Lake defender Marcelo Silva (30) kicks the ball during Real Salt Lake's matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, April 7, 2018, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.
Jacob Wiegand,

SANDY — The biggest eyebrow-raising moment in MLS last week — and perhaps the entire 2018 campaign — occurred in Kansas City last Friday.

Vancouver, which already trailed 3-0, had two players sent off following video replay late in the first half and the 9-man Whitecaps proceeded to then lose 6-0. It was the most lopsided result in MLS this season.

It was the third straight loss for Vancouver and the most embarrassing yet.

When Vancouver hosts Real Salt Lake this Friday (8:30 p.m., KMYU), RSL midfielder Albert Rusnak fully expects that 6-0 shellacking to have an impact on this weekend’s match.

“We played them not long ago, so we know what players kind of players they have and the style they want to play,” said Rusnak. “It will be a different game. They got beat 6-0, they got two red cards and they’ll play with a point to prove at home for sure.”

RSL beat Vancouver 2-1 at home three weeks ago, and in Vancouver’s two games since it lost 2-0 at home to Los Angeles and then last week at Kansas City.

“They’re at home, they’re coming off a defeat. They’re going to push it for sure,” said RSL coach Mike Petke.

Absorbing that pressure and transitioning out of it quickly will be key for Real Salt Lake to try and earn a rare result in Vancouver. The club is 1-7-1 all-time in Vancouver having been outscored 19-7 on the turf.

In RSL’s two most recent road games at Toronto FC and New York City FC it was outscored a combined 7-1. Rusnak doesn’t want to see his team get too defensive to shake those doldrums, in fact quite the opposite.

“Everybody talks about road mentality and you have to change the way you play and go a little more defensive, and I don’t think we should do that. We have players who want to play on the front foot, who want to attack who want to put pressure high and not sit on the ball,” said Rusnak.

Sitting back defensively would be a gamble anyway with a potentially young backline. Assuming that neither Marcelo Silva nor Demar Phillips return to the starting line-up, Petke will likely trot out the same starting backline he did against Colorado.

The average age of Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon, Nick Besler and Danilo Acosta is just 21, which Petke said could be one of the youngest backlines that’s ever started in MLS history.

Last week that group allowed no shots on goal to Colorado, which Petke said deserves credit regardless of the red card.

Vancouver also faces line-up uncertainty this weekend without midfielders Efrain Juarez and Yordy Reyna, regulars who were both red carded after the ref reviewed a scuffle with Kansas City.

On the same weekend, Real Salt had video replay go its way when it confirmed Colorado keeper Tim Howard used his arm to save a shot outside the box. He was red carded as well, and RSL eventually pulled away from the 10-man Rapids.

“Big brother is watching,” joked Petke, who said he reminds his players off-the-ball cheap stuff will usually retroactively be punished even if you get away with it initially.

The Vancouver match kicks off a stretch of four of five road games for Real Salt Lake, which also includes trips to Orlando, Philadelphia and Seattle. The lone home game during the stretch is May 12 against D.C. United.