Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers – Match Preview

It has been a long time since RSL fans saw this duo playing together at Rio Tinto Stadium, but Saturday should be a great reunion for Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave and the RSL fans. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

For the Timbers the hope of making the playoffs died off weeks ago, and while they can still claim the Cascadia Cup their bigger battle is to not finish at the bottom of the Western Conference. For the Timbers players they are playing for contracts, we know that Caleb Porter will take over as the head coach next season and one has to believe that will me another round of major changes to the roster in the offseason, so guys have a lot to play for and you have seen that from them in their last few matches.

For Real Salt Lake a win on Tuesday kept their hopes alive in the CONCACAF Champions League, and on Saturday RSL can secure a playoff spot with a win, it would be RSL's 5th straight year in the playoffs. It would also mark the 3rd straight season of 15 wins, a mark that only one other team has done since MLS quit using PK shootouts, in reality both RSL and the LA Galaxy can reach that mark on Saturday night. On Tuesday night RSL fans held their breath after Alvaro Saborio appeared to be injured after his PK goal to win the match in stoppage time, but despite fears that he would miss several weeks, he was not only at practice on Friday, but it is possible that he may even see action on Saturday. Big time players show up for big time matches, and for RSL this is a huge match with NBC Sports in town to cover the match, and a playoff spot to be secured.

If you just look at the numbers you might be lead to believe this will be an easy match for RSL, but I won't let you be fooled that way. Sure the Timbers are 0-10-4 on the road while RSL is 10-4-1 at home, yes RSL has a +11 goal differential at Rio Tinto with 25 goals scored and just 14 allowed, and Portland has a -22 goal differential on the road with just 8 goals scored and 30 goals allowed. Even the first meeting of the teams at Rio Tinto back in July when Alvaro Saborio scored a hattrick in the 3-0 win for RSL is a bit deceptive, as the Timbers allowed all three goals in a 15 minute window, but were dangerous for large chunks of the match. Now I am not going to say the Timbers are a great team, but they have a lot of offensive weapons and in their last 9 matches they have only twice been held without a goal, and 4 times have scored multiple goals. They have gone 2-3-4 in their last 9 matches, while RSL is 3-5-1 in our last 9, so this is going to be an important match for both sides.

After the jump, the Key Match Up, Wildcards, and more:

Key Match Up:

Skill & Experience vs. Youth & Speed - 33, 24, 31, 31, and 30 vs. 26, 21, 25, and 23, the first set of numbers are the ages of the RSL defense, while the second are the primary attacking players for the Portland Timbers and the difference between the two groups is huge when it comes to age. When you look at experience you get a real shocker: 28,503, 8,433, 10,095, 19,921, and 16,536 vs. 1,461, 4,000, 1,403, and 3,990 are the minutes played in their MLS careers. Tony Beltran alone with his 8,433 minutes played is just 27 matches fewer than the combined collective of Mike Fucito, Danny Mwanga, Franck Songo'o and Darlington Nagbe over their MLS careers, Nick Rimando, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, and Chris Wingert all have played more minutes as individuals than the 4 players the provide the majority of the offensive attack for the Portland Timbers.

Those are some amazing numbers but don't be fooled easily by just age and experience there is more to this match up than that, the Timbers have some amazing speed to go along with that youth and they also have that swagger of younger players who are fighting for minutes and to be honest to keep their contracts. The RSL side might be a bit more seasoned but if you think that means slow, you would be wrong as 31 year old Jamison Olave is still one of the fastest players in MLS, and Tony Beltran is one of the few defenders I have seen run down the games fastest players from behind on a regular basis. I chose this match up because it will be a huge factor in the final result, the Portland Timbers have scored multiple goals in 10 of their 29 matches (including 2 against RSL in the match at Portland this year). Real Salt Lake have given up multiple goals 10 times this year, but the balance continues as RSL has kept 11 clean sheets as a team this year, and the Portland Timbers have been kept off the score sheet 11 times this year.

This is going to be an exciting match as RSL looks to get their 15th win of the season and have a playoff spot secured if they win, while the Portland Timbers have no pressure at all, they are playing for pride and to impress Caleb Porter who will take over as their head coach next year. Get there early and don't leave until the final whistle.

Wildcards:

Darlington Nagbe - I don't know if anyone was surprised when Darlington was selected with the number 2 pick in the 2011 MLS draft, he had lead his college team the Akron Zips (where Caleb Porter was the head coach) to their first NCAA title and was named the Hermann Trophy winner as the best college player earlier in 2011. He is a very skilled player and while the adjustment to MLS hasn't been as easy as some might have thought, we are seeing signs of what he can do this year. He scored 2 goals against RSL when the teams faced off at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland earlier this year and he has brought his season total up to 6 goals and 1 assist so far this year. He is a dynamic player who combines skill and pace, During my preseason look at the Western Conference he was the player on the Timbers roster that I picked for wanting to play for RSL. He will likely keep RSL's midfielders and defenders busy on Saturday.

Jamison Olave - It has been almost two months since Jamison Olave played in a MLS match, but with his 90 minute performance on Tuesday against Tauro FC in CCL action, we can say that it sure looks like Olave is back. That is a very good thing for RSL as the unique combination of size, strength, speed, skill, and match awareness that you get with Olave is simply something special. While the team has some exciting young players who can step in when he is gone, a healthy Jamison Olave is still one of the top 5 defenders in the league, and that is hard to replace. He will be tested on Saturday as the Timbers are a very fast team and Danny Mwanga provides their offense with a big target, something Olave will have to deal with.

Kevin Stott - Of all the MLS officials that cause me heartburn and headaches when I see their name, Kevin Stott has the least impact on me. He is normally a very level headed and rational official in matches, with 229 MLS matches under his belt he has seen and done it all in MLS. He calls an average of 25.6 fouls per match, issues an average of 3.3 yellow cards per match, 48 times he has pointed to the PK spot and 59 times he has sent a player off with a red card. In a league of huge inconsistency of officials, he is the most consistent, and I hope with so much on the stake for the teams on Saturday that he calls the match evenly and fairly for both teams.

My RSL Starting XI :

Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Paulo Jr., and Fabian Espindola. I expect that we will see Alvaro Saborio on the bench for this one, just in case we need him.

My Prediction:

History is on the line for RSL on Saturday, as they shoot for their 15th win of the season. It would make them just the 2nd team in MLS to reach 15 wins for 3 straight years since the league got rid of the PK shootout, a win would also secure RSL a playoff spot for the 5th straight season. A lot to play for in front of what will be another sold out crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium (I wonder if they have started planning on expanding to add more seats yet?).

I say it every match, the key is the first goal, for RSL they are 12-1-0 when they score first and just 2-10-1 when they give up the first goal. The Timbers are 6-4-3 when they score first and just 1-10-3 when they give up the first goal. This match will be exciting from start to finish, as the Timbers have given up 13 goals in the first 30 minutes of their matches, but they have scored 9 goals in the first 30 minutes as well. RSL have given up just 4 in the first 30 minutes and scored just 5, but the end of the match is where it looks like there will be action, RSL has allowed 20 goals in the final 30 minutes of matches this year, Portland has allowed 22 in the final 30 minutes. RSL has scored 12 in the final 15 minutes of matches, where Portland has given up 13 in the final 13 minutes.

This is a contrast of styles, RSL loves to posses the ball and work their attack up the middle of the pitch with possession and passing, while the Timbers love to attack up the sides and are always looking to attack quickly. When these teams played in July, RSL had 498 passes with 86% passing accuracy for 63.6% of the possession, Portland had just 286 passes and just 36.4% of the possession. I expect more of the same on Saturday, a well rested Kyle Beckerman will have his hands full on both sides of the ball, but should be able to dictate the pace of the match.

I look for a hard fought 2-1 RSL win. Remember it is a 6pm start tonight and the match will be on NBC Sports.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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