After Champions League disappointment, wounded Whitecaps visit Real Salt Lake

Whitecaps visit RSL in return to MLS action

Battered, bruised and disappointed, the Vancouver Whitecaps don’t have much time to dwell on what might have been.

Vancouver was bounced from the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals on Wednesday, losing 2-1 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate to Tigres UANL.

The Whitecaps got the early goal to make the Mexican champions sweat a little, but in the end were sent packing by a world-class strike from French international Andre-Pierre Gignac that snuffed out any real hope of advancing.

“It was a great journey for us,” said Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson. “They should be proud of themselves, what they’ve achieved — don’t have any sadness.

“Maybe a little bit of disappointment, but that drives you on and makes you stronger.”

Strength, however, could be an issue as primary focus now returns to Major League Soccer, where the undermanned Whitecaps (1-2-1) visit Real Salt Lake (0-3-2) on Saturday night.

Robinson faces a number of selection headaches, especially with his forward-thinking players, going into the match after Brek Shea (knee) was hurt against Tigres, joining Erik Hurtado (foot contusion) and Yordy Reyna (broken foot) on the sidelines for the foreseeable future.

The trip to take on Real Salt Lake is also Vancouver’s third game in eight days, meaning a number of regular starters will also likely need to be rested.

Fredy Montero, who came on at halftime against the Los Angeles Galaxy last weekend and scored to help secure the Whitecaps’ first win of the MLS season, played 90 minutes on Wednesday despite a recent hamstring issue.

Alphonso Davies subbed in for Shea following the injury in mid-week after the 16-year-old also played 90 minutes against the Galaxy, while Christian Bolanos and Cristian Techera have both put in 180 minutes over the last two games.

“We’ve said all along that we think we have a good squad,” said Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted. “The guys who get the chances have to step up and prove (themselves).”

Among the players likely in the mix at the top of Robinson’s 4-2-3-1 formation against Real Salt Lake are Nicolas Mezquida, Mauro Rosales and Kyle Greig.

Rosales played for the Whitecaps in 2014 and 2015, and returned to the club this season as a veteran presence on and off the field.

Robinson said recently he didn’t know when the 36-year-old midfielder would get an opportunity, but it looks to be coming fast.

“Probably sooner rather than later,” said the coach. “Mauro’s a big part of the group whether he plays or doesn’t play. He’ll be involved now over the weekend at some stage. We know he’s got quality. He shows you that on a daily basis.”

Greig, meanwhile, could be in line for the first MLS appearance of his career. The 27-year-old striker spent the last four seasons in the second-tier USL before signing a first-team contract with Vancouver in December.

“He probably didn’t think his chance would come this quickly, but it has and it will. It’s down to him to take it,” said Robinson. “I’ve got full confidence in him.”

Greig, who made five substitute appearances for the Whitecaps in Champions League play, scored 13 goals in 30 USL games last year.

“I knew I always had it in me, but I took the road less travelled,” Greig said of his journey to MLS. “Persistence and hard work and taking advantage of opportunities has landed me here.”

The Whitecaps know they’re in for a desperate Real Salt Lake team that will want to jump on a tired opponent. But while they might be undermanned, the visitors feel they’re hitting their stride after that victory over Los Angeles and the strong performance against Tigres.

“We showed the last two games we’re in good form. I think we’re ready,” said Vancouver defender/midfielder Marcel de Jong, another player likely to draw into Saturday’s starting lineup. “Salt Lake is a good team, but I think we’re better and could definitely take the three points.”

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press