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Whitecaps hope to hand perennial powerhouse Real Salt Lake its first loss

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VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Whitecaps hope one good result against a top Major League Soccer club will lead to another, and this time on the road.

The Whitecaps (2-2-3) visit undefeated Real Salt Lake (3-0-4) on Saturday, aiming to build on a home draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy last weekend. The Whitecaps were encouraged by their ability to overcome a pair of deficits against L.A., which has won two of the past three MLS Cups.

"I think we showed a lot of character to come back," said midfielder Russell Teibert after a practice this week. "We got a couple sucker punches there, and we just (kept) getting right back up. We got a point out of it, and I think a lot of guys in the locker-room thought we should have won that game.

"I think that's something we'll definitely take to Salt Lake this weekend."

The Whitecaps, who have struggled on the road since entering MLS in 2011, face a daunting task. Real Salt Lake, a perennial powerhouse, lost the 2013 MLS title game to Sporting Kansas City and has continued to excel under new coach Jeff Cassar, a former Salt Lake assistant who replaced Jason Kreis after he left for 2015 MLS expansion club New York City.

Salt Lake is unbeaten in four all-time meetings at home (3-0-1) against Vancouver.

"It's a fortress for them," said Teibert of Rio Tinto Stadium. "They're confident in how they play, and I think they're more confident playing that way at home. Just like it's a fortress for them at home, (B.C. Place Stadium) is a fortress for us as well. We really play well with our fans at our backs, and I think they do the same (with theirs). Now, it's our job to go down there and really put pressure on them."

In doing so, the Whitecaps will try to alleviate some of the pressure that they face while playing away in any locale. The Caps are winless (0-1-2) away from B.C. Place Stadium this season.

While trying to figure out how to play better away, the Whitecaps are also attempting to determine why they have struggled.

"I couldn't put a finger on it, because I've been part of the league for (three going on four) years now, and it has been tough on the road," said Teibert, a 20-year-old Niagara Falls, Ont., native. "But I think it's a mentality thing. Now, I think, this weekend, we really have to go down to Salt Lake and show that we can play down there as well."

Defender Jordan Harvey said the Whitecaps need to play with the same mindset on the road as they do at home, while playing a sound defensive game against a Salt Lake side that has scored five goals in three home games while only allowing one.

"It's just little things here and there, a lot of mental stuff," said Harvey of the causes of the team's road woes.

But striker Kenny Miller does not believe Vancouver's road problems are psychological in nature.

"It's tough to win on the road," said Miller. "It's as simple as that."

Studious first-year assistant coach Martyn Pyrt suggests that road success is an issue of mind as well as matter.

"Physiologically, it's proven that you have greater levels of testosterone for home games because the crowd are with you and the adrenalin (level is affected)," he said. "That's a fact."

The Whitecaps are developing strategies to help them deal with all components involved with travel — on the field and off.

Against Salt Lake, a specific strategy will be to disrupt the effectiveness of the hosts' diamond-shaped midfield which many opposing clubs, including the Whitecaps, have adopted.

"They play the diamond very well, and everybody in the league can see that," said Teibert. "Now, it's about us picking their weaknesses, picking our spots where we can attack and really being clinical."

The Whitecaps will also try to offset the effects of playing at a much higher altitude than they are accustomed to in home games at sea level.

"It's definitely a factor," Teibert said. "But everywhere you go, it seems like there are small factors like that. You can't let it take a hold on you."

Head coach Carl Robinson, unimpressed with recent defensive miscues, is contemplating changes to the back four. Johnny Leveron, a candidate to represent Honduras in this summer's World Cup, appears likely to displace captain Jay DeMerit at one of the central defender spots.

Leveron replaced Andy O'Brien for the second half against L.A. for precautionary reasons because O'Brien had taken a yellow card. Robinson has also told Honduras' manager that he will do whatever he can to help him get Leveron ready for the World Cup, while seeking to help the Caps at the same time.

"Johnny's knocking on the door," Robinson told reporters. "He really has been fantastic (in training.) Playing him (last) Saturday for 45 minutes, I think I really need to see more."

Robinson is also debating whether to start second-year midfielder Kekuta Manneh, who scored the tying goal against L.A. and has two goals this season while being used primarily as a substitute. Manneh, a 19-year-old Gambia native who is still likely to play if he does not start, will attempt to shine against Salt Lake assistant coach Paul Dalglish.

He coached Manneh earlier in his teens in Texas after the youngster, whose mother died when he was about nine, was adopted by an American family and moved to Dallas.

"Paul helped me a lot — and off the field as a person, too," said Manneh. "He's been a big part of my life."

Notes_ Dalglish is the son of former Liverpool star Kenny Dalglish. … Caps goalkeeper David Ousted has not been fazed by a busy week after his new twin sons William and Liam arrived about four weeks early, "It's been hectic, but it's been fantastic as well," he said. … Former Vancouver coach Martin Rennie, fired at the end of last season, is calling for the creation of a domestic Canadian professional league to help develop more international-level talent. … Vancouver midfielder Pedro Morales, who has ongoing back issues, was rested at times in training but will play if he is fit. … RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando is within one shutout of tying the MLS record of 112 held by former L.A., Kansas City and Dallas 'keeper Kevin Hartman.

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