When we look at tonight's match against Portland Timbers, it becomes increasingly apparent that we're facing a team that has nothing to lose. I mean, not much, at least — they only have things to gain. They could lose their last chance at making the playoffs, and that's what we should be both wary and excited about.
Real Salt Lake has qualified for the playoffs, but seeding position, should we make that last, big game again, is important. Important enough that resting on our laurels would not only be dangerous, but it could be damning.
Portland Timbers, though, more or less need a win to have a chance of making it in. One slip-up this weekend — with Vancouver capitalizing, of course — and they could find themselves four points outside the playoff running with only a match to go. It's increasingly difficult to overstate the importance of this game for Portland.
Should we win, we'd find ourselves in a position to host MLS Cup in December, supposing, of course, we make it there in the first place. Should we lose, we could slip to fourth place in the league with little chance of recovery. It's vital for our pacing heading into the playoff season that we get three points tonight. It wouldn't spell the end of anything — there would always be another playoff game with which to contend. A win could mean a boost to confidence ahead of the playoffs, when confidence can be a decisive factor in producing a positive performance.
Portland will be pushing to score — and they're a great goalscoring team. But they're tragically (and I use the term loosely) poor defensively, with a seven-goal difference despite having one of the best scoring rates in the league. With 52 conceded to their 59 scored, there's every bit an expectation that there will be gaps defensively to exploit.
We'll have to think long and hard about our approach. Are we able to outscore Portland? Can we keep them defensively at bay? Should we take an approach of containment and aim for exploitation on the counter attack? All I can say is that I'm glad Jeff Cassar is the coach and not me. The options in front of us are numerous, and there's not exactly one true solution.