The 2016 MLS season has started in a similar fashion for both Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers. After a shoving match erupted in preseason between these two squads, it could bleed over into this match, or it might not. But it's something to keep an eye on.
Let's get to the reasons RSL fans should take heart in:
3. Goals and lack thereof
Playing two matches so far in 2016, Portland has both scored and conceded three goals - leaving the club with a zero goal differential. For as good as the offense has been at scoring goals, the defense has been equally as bad at conceding them.
In the last four meetings between these two clubs at Providence Park, neither side has been able to score resulting in draws. Last year alone, these clubs met three times and only two goals were scored both coming at Rio Tinto.
In other words, it is already going to be a tight affair, but RSL walking away with three clean-sheets in the last three trips to Providence Park is a feather in the cap of the road team.
2. Ridgewell is injured
After an offseason loan to Brighton & Hove Albion, Liam Ridgewell played in the Portland Timber’s season opener against the Columbus Crew SC but will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a hamstring injury. The Timber’s captain is a physical presence and a vocal leader on the pitch. The veteran organizes the backline, along with former RSLer Nat Borchers, and covers ground like a younger man.
In all, he averaged 9 defensive actions per 90 minutes in 2015 and maintained a 77 percent passing accuracy. So far his position has been filled by Jermaine Taylor, previously of the Houston Dynamo. But the 31-year-old Jamaican suffered a massive quad tear last year he simply doesn’t cover the ground as efficiently as Ridgewell. He often finds himself on the wrong side of the attacker.
*Note: Taylor (4) trailing Amarikwa before the goal.
With Taylor in Ridgwell’s spot, Yura Movsisyan, or the wingers for that matter, could find a lot more space to operate in around the box. His traditional No. 9 tendencies could make it hard for Taylor and Borchers as they have not been on the same wave-length. Playing physical, something Taylor has struggled with - evident of his 1-in-5 percent duel win ratio - there is a good chance that Movsisyan will be able to out-muscle his competition.
1. Timbers' fullbacks play like wingbacks
Just like Taylor, Portland's fullbacks like to get into the attack. Portland's style of play has become synonymous with overlapping fullback runs to overload the peripherals of the pitch. But as the fullbacks bound forward, this opens up space for the RSL wingers to exploit. Just watch San Jose do this with their 3-on-4 break:
With Joao Plata and El Burrito, Juan Manuel Martinez, already showcasing their midseason form, RSL has looked dangerous on the wings. From the Claret-and-Cobalt's ten goal-scoring chances created through open play, five of them have been created on the wing. This stat, paired with the fact that the Timber's fullbacks play higher up the pitch, could open up opportunities for RSL around the 18 yard-box.