After winning their first silverware of the year, Real Salt Lake will start their 2015 campaign against the Portland Timbers on Saturday. RSL finished the preseason tournament with a perfect 4-0-0 record, winning the Desert Diamond Cup for the first time. The Claret-and-Cobalt will attempt to use their preseason momentum going forward. Despite beating several MLS sides during the preseason, regular season matches are an entirely different beast. That said, RSL appear to have found their regular season form and will hope to earn a result at Providence Park.
The last time RSL and the Timbers met neither club could get the ball into the back of the net. Nick Rimando showed how he earned the all-time MLS record in shutouts on a traditionally raining Portland night. The net minder collected six saves and commanded the RSL defense en route to a scoreless draw at Providence Park. The Claret-and-Cobalt had some good attacking plays in the first half but finished the match having weathered a largely defensive battle. This time, however, expect this matchup to shape up a little differently.
While the Claret-and-Cobalt should expect a hard fight in Portland, the Timbers are dealing with several key injuries to start the season. Chief among these are Argentine playmaker Diego Valeri and Timbers' Captain - and former RSLer - Will Johnson. With both of these players recuperating from injuries sustained last year, another blow was dealt to the Timbers when they lost Ben Zemanski to a season-ending ACL tear in the club's first match of the Simple Invitational. These injuries will be a major weakness of the Timbers as the regular season begins and will be a serious reason that RSL can expect to get a result at Providence Park.
Predicted Timbers Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Kwarasey; Powell, Borchers, Ridgewell (c), Villafana; Jewsbury, Chara; Wallace, Fernandez, Nagbe; Adi
As the first match of the regular season, RSL will look to start the season off with a result. This will be the first of three regular season meetings between these two clubs and since these two clubs have some bad blood against one another. Expect a rough and tumble match as both of these two clubs will look to secure crucial points in a stacked Western Conference. But more importantly, expect a chess match as these clubs look to chip away at the other and hopefully score a winning goal.
With the regular season beginning, this match will be approached with the natural, technical skill that the Claret-and-Cobalt possess. The senior team roster has likely been set in stone by the coaching staff, so anticipate RSL's best to take the field. With Joao Plata as the only major senior roster injury, anticipate Olmes Garcia to get the start on the left wing. Preseason performances and match fitness will also be a decisive aspect of this match. The Claret-and-Cobalt will likely make tactical substitutions as needed, but expect the regular season's starting XI to dominate the minutes of this match.
Players to Watch
During the last regular season match of these two teams, Luis Gil asserted himself in the match. Gil not only took some great goal-scoring changes, but came up big in front of net. During the second half of the match, Portland defender Norberto Paparatto got his head on a corner kick and nodded it towards the near post, only to be cleared by a waiting Gil. RSL's new number 10 could have yet another quality match, but he will have to do the little things right.
Apparent starting XI player Demar Phillips is a player that could get his first regular season start. Picking up an injury during preseason against FC Tucson, the Jamaican International will look to get back up to speed with the club. His agility on the ball could be the catalyst RSL needs against speedy Portland fullbacks. If Phillips dresses, expect the veteran to appear throughout the attacking third and maybe even get a few shots on target. If the injury prevents his involvement, expect Abdoulie Mansalley to once again seamlessly slot into the RSL backline.
Other names to keep an eye on are Devon Sandoval, Jordan Allen, and Luke Mulholland. All of these players have had standout performances during the preseason in Tucson. More than that, these are the players that were substitutions during the dress rehearsal against Colorado last Saturday. Not only did these players preform admirably, but each and every one could be a difference maker off the bench against a depleted Portland Timbers. Any of these players could score the winning goal, but they have shown that they can absorb the physical game that Portland is known for. Expect one - if not more - of these names to make an appearance in Providence Park.
We'd like to know what you think. Do you think that there is anything we missed? Are there aspects of this match that we overlooked? What do you think this match means to Real Salt Lake? Share your opinions in the comments section below.