Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers - Match Preview

Alvaro Saborio continues to his return to full time action, could Saturdays match at Portland be his first start of the 2012 MLS season? Yes and I think he could be the difference maker for Real Salt Lake against the Timbers. (photo by me)

With all the things that went on in the RSL universe last year, it was kind of amazing that they failed to beat the expansion side Portland Timbers, we faced them at Jeld-Wen Field just days after the crushing Champions League final loss at Rio Tinto and gave up an early goal and were unable to respond and left with a 1-0 loss. On the final weekend of the regular season the Timbers came to Rio Tinto and while RSL took the lead they couldn't hold on to it and gave up an equalizer in stoppage time to end the 2011 MLS season with a 1-1 draw. So can RSL rebound off their first loss of 2012 last weekend and get their first win over the Portland Timbers?

The Timbers themselves are coming off a loss as well, also their first of the season and will be looking to use their home turf advantage along with the crowd at Jeld-Wen as it was recently voted by MLS managers one of the toughest places to play in MLS. The Timbers will be battling something that RSL is finally starting to get over, the injury bug, for Real this week's injury report is the shortest it has been in months as just Cody Arnoux is listed as out, and Will Johnson has been upgraded to probable.

The list for the Timbers is a bit more daunting: OUT: DF Futty Danso (L foot fracture); FW Eddie Johnson (concussion); DF Hanyer Mosquera (concussion); DOUBTFUL: DF David Horst (R hip surgery); QUESTIONABLE: MF Sal Zizzo (L ACL surgery); MF Kalif Alhassan (L groin strain); PROBABLE: MF James Marcelin (L hamstring strain).

After the jump I will give you my Key Match Up, my Wildcards, and more

Key Match Up:

Nat Borchers vs. Kris Boyd - In what I expect will be his first start of the 2012 MLS season, Nat Borchers will have have more than just a hostile crowd, funky turf, chilly weather, and rain, he also will have to deal with Portland's new striker Kris Boyd. When Portland made the choice to trade away Kenny Cooper, they brought in Kris Boyd, the all time leading scorer in the Scottish Premier League and former Scottish National Team player. Now I can't doubt his talent but most soccer fans know that the SPL is about 2 teams deep and beyond Celtic and Rangers that the talent level drops off quickly. Still Boyd has looked like he was adjusting to MLS quickly, he scored a goal in his first match but hasn't gotten back on the scoreboard since then.

For Nat Borchers the end of the 2011 season was a disappointment as he was forced to watch his team lose in the Western Conference final and he could do nothing about it as he was unable to play due to injury, now we are 4 weeks into the MLS season and finally Nat Borchers can do something about the result on the pitch. For the last two seasons Nat has been a candidate for MLS defender of the year, and for good reason as his sound decision making and physical abilities. Nat is a natural leader on and off the pitch and his appreciation for the fans has been returned to him as he is one of everyone's favorites players.

So as these two battle it should be interesting to see how Borchers deals with not only Kris Boyd but the rest of the very aggressive Portland Timbers who will be looking to satisfy their fans with a home win. This is a battle that you will want to keep your eyes on.

Wildcards:

Alvaro Saborio - In what should be his first start of the 2012 season, RSL forward Alvaro Saborio looks to avoid what happened in 2011. Rushed into action after off season surgery, Saborio never fully recovered from the short offseason last year and the heavy schedule of Champions League, and then the long MLS season. Now in 2012 RSL made the choice to go very slowly with Saborio, and the hope is that it will pay off, he came on at the half last weekend against Chivas USA and was able to quickly create some chances (4 shots in 45 minutes) but found himself inches off on a couple of them. Will he be able to regain the form that made him the 2010 MLS Newcomer of the year? Today would be a perfect chance for the crafty veteran to take advantage of his opportunities, can he add to his goal against the Timbers from last year? He is the only RSL player to score against the Timbers, so let's hope he adds to his total.

Darlington Nagbe - Just 21 years old, the number two pick in the 2011 MLS draft was guick to show his potential as he stared in 21 matches last year, and while he only had 2 goals and 3 assists, he was able to secure the 2011 Goal of the year for his July 2nd goal against Sporting KC. He made his first start of the 2012 season last weekend and with Kalif Alhassan being ruled out for the match, he could see his way into the starting XI again this week. I think Nagbe is a player who is still adjusting to MLS, but he has all the potential to be a game changer week in and week out for Portland. His skill on the ball, as well as being a fairly quick player who is very creative means that the RSL midfielders will need to keep a lot of pressure on him Saturday evening.

Mark Geiger - after a display of awful officiating last weekend, it was bad both ways, it is almost refreshing to know that one of the more consistent officials in MLS will be in charge of this match. Mark has been in charge of 91 MLS matches, he calls an average of 26.5 fouls per match, issues a fairly high 3.7 yellows per match but has only issued 18 red cards and pointed to the PK spot 31 times. Each week my hope is for a match that is called fairly and consistently by the officials, so far this season I think there has been real improvement but still a long way to go.

My RSL Starting XI:

Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Luis Gil, Fabian Espindola, and Alvaro Saborio

My Prediction:

For Real Salt Lake to get their first win over the Portland Timbers they will need a very solid and consistent effort, the Timbers aren't a team to be taken lightly. It will be hard given the conditions for RSL to do what they like to do, the turf and rain will make completing passes more difficult, and that will make it hard to maintain long stretches of possession, so I expect a little bit of a tactic change. I expect that RSL will look to make some individual runs at the Timbers who tend to play very high, look for chances to get them to over react to a run and then get the ball to to a teammate in a better position. I expect RSL to come out very quickly and look to get an early goal, they know the emotions will be high for the Timbers in front of their home crowd and putting them under pressure early could help to take the crowd out of the match a bit.

In MLS the team that scores first wins most of the matches, so getting the first goal is huge. We have also seen a huge number of late goals in MLS this year, so playing from whistle to whistle is going to be a key on a cold, wet, night in Portland. If RSL can complete 70-75 percent of their passes, get at least 6 shots on goal, and end the match with 11 men and no PK's allowed then I think they can come out of the match with a result. The Timber defense isn't bad but it isn't going to be good enough to keep RSL's attack from scoring, this one ends up 2-1 for RSL.

You can catch the match at 8pm MT on ABC 4, KALL 700AM, MLS Direct Kick, and MLS Live

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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