SEATTLE (AP) – Over its past three games, Real Salt Lake has hardly looked like a team that's heading to the playoffs. In its next one, RSL could look like a different team altogether.
As many as six players will likely be missing when Salt Lake attempts to avoid a fourth straight defeat Thursday night during a rescheduled visit to face the Vancouver Whitecaps, also losers of three in a row.
After tying a franchise record with five consecutive wins, Real Salt Lake (15-10-6) has been outscored 9-2 during its three-game skid and has dropped from second to third in the Western Conference. The top three teams in each conference will avoid having to play a single-elimination game to open the postseason.
RSL holds a five-point lead over FC Dallas in the race for third place and would greatly aid its chances of securing one of those top three spots with a win over the last-place Whitecaps (4-16-10).
Four Salt Lake players, though, are expected to be away on international duty during this game: captain Kyle Beckerman (United States), Jean Alexandre (Haiti), Will Johnson (Canada) and Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica).
Forward Fabian Espindola, who is tied with Saborio for the team lead with 10 goals and scored in the previous matchup with Vancouver, will also have to sit out after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season during a 2-1 defeat to Los Angeles on Saturday. Cuban midfielder Yordany Alvarez is still dealing with immigration issues that don't allow him to leave the United States.
"We're going to have to make a choice on whether to play someone a little bit out of position, change our shape or play somebody who hasn't had extended minutes," coach Jason Kreis said. "That's probably the most difficult decision on our plate right now."
Midfielder Javier Morales, however, made his first start Saturday since breaking his ankle May 7. Morales assisted on an Espindola goal that gave Salt Lake the lead just before halftime, but the MLS-best Galaxy got an equalizer in the 59th minute then benefited from an own goal in the 72nd.
Kreis' team will try for a better result in the second league game at BC Place Stadium. The Whitecaps fell 1-0 to Portland during the first game on their new home field Sunday.
"You went away frustrated and disappointed," interim coach Tom Soehn said. "I didn't think we had the best energy in the first half. That's hard to explain when you look at this venue and the excitement. We gave away a bad goal. There is no looking back. Teams punish you for mistakes."
Real Salt Lake was originally scheduled to play in Vancouver on July 16 but problems with temporary sod at Empire Field led to the game being postponed.
Salt Lake is seeking to avoid its first four-game skid since July 7-28, 2007, and will try to repeat its performance during a 2-0 victory over the Whitecaps on June 4.
Vancouver dropped a season-high four in a row June 25-July 9.