Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers - "It still matters" match preview

Javi 1

So the playoff dreams of the Portland Timbers are over, but I doubt that will mean that they just show up on Saturday night.  This is an exciting and very athletic young team that features a number of players who know that this might be their last chance to impact their future with the team, so I expect a huge effort to win from them.  

For Real Salt Lake the playoff spot is secure but there is oh so much still at stake as the battle for 3rd or 4th is still up in the air, a win for RSL would keep them in the Western Conference for the playoff (which I prefer to the East) and much closer to a very important Champions League spot.  It also would allow for 1 less match on the way to MLS Cup, and less travel, both of which are important as we have a number of players still recovering from injuries and working to get back into top form.

So these two teams have only faced each other once before, it was 3 days after the Champions League final when a spry Timbers side took advantage of the down RSL and kicked them by handing them their first loss of the 2011 MLS season via a 1-0 result back on April 30th. The Timbers were an impressive 9-5-3 at home, which is great for an expansion side, but like most teams away from home they struggled and have a 2-9-5 record with a -16 goal differential.  Real Salt Lake are 10-3-3 at home this year and will need a win to match the 11 win mark they set last year at RIo Tinto, they do have a +14 goal differential at home.  

So while some think their is little left to play for this weekend, I think both of these teams will be putting out their very best as they look to accomplish much in their last regular season match of the year.

After the jump, my Key Match Up, Wildcards, my starting XI, and match prediction:

Key Match Up:

Who can score first? -

I know that doesn't seem like a matchup but consider the following facts:

RSL is 15-3-1 when scoring first, the Timbers are 11-1-4 when they get the first goal.  Neither team has given up the first goal in a match and come back to get a win, Portland is 0-13-3 and RSL are 0-8-2.

Real Salt Lake has scored 21 of their 43 goals in the first half of matches, the Portland Timbers have 20 of their 39 goals in the first half.  RSL have given up 5 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches, Portland 7, but should the match be tied going into the last 1/3 of the match RSL holds an edge.  RSL in the final 30 minutes has scored 14 goals while giving up 15, but Portland have scored just 11 in the final 30, while giving up 24.

One thing I don't expect is a 0-0 draw in this match, as RSL have been held to no goals in 10 matches, while the Timbers have only had 9 matches where they failed to score a goal.

Wildcards:

Javier Morales-

I will be honest I didn't think Javi would be back this year, at least not in the regular season and to be honest I thought it might have been a mistake to bring him back over the last 4 matches (0-3-1 with 1 goal scored and 8 allowed).  Then came the last 15 minutes of the match at Colorado last week, when for the first time I saw something that resembled the Javier Morales that we lost back on May 7th.  A couple of very sharp passes, a couple of quick turns with the ball, and sure enough it was like turning the clock back.  So the question remains can we get that Javi to show up in this match for 75 minutes?  If we get that, well then the playoff just got a lot more interesting.

Kenny Cooper-

So how can I list a teams leading scorer as a wildcard? Easy, it has been inconsistency that allows me to put Kenny as my wildcard.  He scored the teams first goal in MLS history back on their opening day match at Colorado and he scored their last goal on Wednesday night in their 1-1 draw at DC United.  I think I expected more from him when he returned to MLS and as the only player to play in every Timbers match this year I think he has been dangerous at times but then he has had matches that he simply doesn't even seem to be on the pitch.  I guess that is fairly true of all strikers. 

Silviu Petrescu-

In a season that I believe for many fans will be one remembered for some of the awful calls as much as the great plays the officials have been a wildcard all year long and I have little doubt that we will likely see that be the case again on Saturday.  Players know that yellow cards get reset to zero for the playoffs but will need to be careful as red cards do carry over.  Silviu has been in charge of 38 MLS matches, calls an average of 28 fouls per match, issues 3.8 yellows per match, 7 times he has shown a player a red card and just 5 times has he pointed to the PK spot. Those numbers give me some hope that we might actually get to see the teams actually play.

Starting XI:

Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Andy Williams, Yordany Alvarez, Will Johnson, Javier Morales, Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio

Bench: Kyle Reynish, Robbie Russell, Blake Wagner, Collen Warner, Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil, Paulo Jr.

My Prediction:

I would feel much better about this match if we had Kyle Beckerman to be there to break up things in the midfield, but we won't again this week and that likely means a lot of pressure for Yordany Alvarez to keep Jack Jewsbury in check and this year that is no easy task.  For me I don't think this match will end up 0-0, or 1-1, but I expect it will take two goals from one of these sides to get a win on Saturday night.  I thought the Timbers will be gassed, they poured everything they had into their match at DC United and while their playoff dreams are over, there will be a number of guys who will be playing to impress coach John Spencer.  

The Timbers are a big team, they have 9 players on their roster over 6' 2" and they are a fast team that can really stretch a defense.  With this being their second match in 4 days and it being at elevation, I expect that fatigue could be a factor as the halves come to an end and that might open the door for RSL to take advantage of any defensive lapses.  Our defense showed last week that they can still be a dominant factor in a match and I expect that it will once again be the focus of the team, but they will also need to find a way to get the offense going heading into the post season.

I can see this one ending 2-1 as both sides have a lot to play for despite what many people may think.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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