After winning the 2015 MLS Cups, the Portland Timbers have already rumbled to life in early 2016 MLS season. Despite not playing in the 2015/2016 CONCACAF Quarterfinals, the Defending Champs look just as sharp as the clubs that did.
With tensions already high between the two clubs, here are three reasons why Real Salt Lake should be wary of the Timbers:
3. The Striking Corps
Usually, Portland's striker corps is lead by Nigerian International Fanendo Adi. He is a large, physical presence in the opposition box and, at times, can be a clinical finisher, capitalizing on opportunities.
On that note, while Adi goes through stretches of form fluctuation, being either "Hot or Cold" in the words of Katy Perry, he has still manged to win the starting role for the Timbers - forcing out Maximiliano Urruti - and earn his DP salary. Like Adi the other Timbers' strikers also go through forms of hot and cold with the midfield sometimes out-scoring the front three. The strikers can often either disappear from a match or score a hat-trick. As the Claret-and-Cobalt hope for the latter, Portland's striker corps could easily surprise the visitors.
More incentive for the attacking three to perform comes with the international call-up of Adi to the Super Eagles. With Adi gone, players like Jack McInerney - who was sent off in a atercation with RSL in preseason - will likely get the start. The strikers will be looking to reward their club for the confidence of getting a starting role, making them all the more dangerous.
2. Nat Borchers
The former RSLer has become a leader for the Timbers to rally behind. His veteran presence and know-how lead the club to their first MLS cup last season. Playing the role of the more conservative center back, Borchers will cover the opposition and prevent goal with cheeky blocks and recoveries.
It was Nat who scored the winning goal against RSL deep into stoppage time on his return to Rio Tinto.
Not only is Borchers a defensive juggernaut, but he is equally as dangerous on set-pieces. RSL will do well to deal with the former RSL man on both ends of the pitch.
1. Scoring chances created
While the Claret-and-Cobalt have only managed to create 12 scoring opportunities in the two matches to start the 2016 MLS Season, Portland has created 31.
Delving deeper into these stats, both teams have created 16 percent of their chances off set-pieces and keep around half of these changes on-target. So what does such a large discrepancy result from?
Well, from RSL's ten chances created from open play, five have been from the wings. Alternatively, only four of the Timbers' 26 opportunities from open play have been from the wings. In other words, that is a 50 and 15 percent ratio of chances created from wing play, respectfully.
Portland relies heavily on the presence of center-pitch playmakers in Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, and Diego Valeri to create scoring opportunities. While RSL is content with depending on the skills of Joao Plata and Juan Martinez to create, Portland would rather have their wingers take chances rather than create them.
So far this has been successful for the Timbers, creating almost two-thirds more chances than RSL. With these kind of numbers, we can expect Portland to be peppering Nick Rimando's goal.