RSL facing similar side in PTFC in bid to continue USOC run

USA TODAY Sports

Nobody seriously talks about the "Magic of the Cup," do they? At least not in any strict sense, right? But that doesn't mitigate the role magic - or, more appropriately, luck and timing - plays in a side reaching this point in any competition. Consecutive coin flips, lower league opposition - it's all combined for a brilliant run.

To this point, we've faced lower-league sides who will work their tail off to gain an advantage in the early goings. I don't expect Portland Timbers will be much different. They are certainly more skillful than those sides we faced in the first three rounds in which we played, but they'll be just as focused on securing an early advantage as those others were. Gone will be the sense that they'll have to retreat into a shell to maintain that lead: Timbers will, one would readily imagine, want to stretch Real Salt Lake from beginning to end.

Which all makes it rather a shame that we haven't seen Portland Timbers since last 2012. They were without a doubt a different side then: One more focused on what they call "route one" - the long ball from the back and the ensuing run on to it, which is an approach not dissimilar to what Sporting Kansas City utilized against us to good effect. No, being a passing side now in most senses of the word gives plenty of reason to suspect this will be a scintillating affair.

But if there's one side in MLS who can lay claim to being a passing side before Portland Timbers, and who have maintained that approach for some number of years, it's Real Salt Lake.

We can eve turn to rudimentary statistics for some evidence of that: Three of our players top the league (Yordany Alvarez, Kyle Beckerman, and Javier Morales) in passes played per 90 minutes. Others aren't far behind. It is no knock against them (although some will take it as a slight) to say that they're well outside of this position - that they're rated as one of the top passing sides in MLS isn't inaccurate, but Real Salt Lake tops them statistically and on the pitch.

That's a rather natural thing: Jason Kreis has been refining this approach at this level for years. Caleb Porter is only getting started. One would readily expect one to be less effective, and we should probably point at the side that's produced 11 draws in 22 matches as evidence.

This is the sort of competition that brings out the best and worst characteristics in a side. Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers tonight will be no different.

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