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Portland vs. RSL preview: Defense will make or break big match in PDX

A short-handed Salt Lake defense will look to keep the Portland attack at bay.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

In a quick turnaround after RSL’s exciting 3-3 draw with the LA Galaxy on Wednesday night, they travel to Providence Park to take on the Portland Timbers in the third and final regular season meeting between the two sides.

This late in the season, it seems that every game is considered a huge one with all of them coming against a Western Conference opponent. Every team is trying to either claw their way into the playoff picture or secure their place in the standings to avoid one of the dreaded first-round knockout games. Several teams are still vying to catch FC Dallas and win the Supporters’ Shield, which will be a tough (but not impossible) task.

Where they stand

After Wednesday night’s draw, RSL (12-8-8, 44 points) is still tied on points with the LA Galaxy, but sits ahead in the race for second place having two more wins to edge them out on that tiebreaker. With a win in Portland and an LA loss to Orlando this weekend, Salt Lake would jump ahead and claim sole possession of second place in the West.

The Timbers (9-11-8, 35 points) are barely holding onto sixth place and that last playoff spot. While they are three and four points ahead of San Jose and Seattle, respectively, both of those teams have two games in hand on the Timbers. If results don’t go Portland’s way, they would see themselves slipping out of the playoffs pretty quickly.

Portland is 2-3-0 in their last five outings, with both wins coming at home and all three losses happening on the road. The Timbers’ last home loss came on July 23rd at the hands of the LA Galaxy by a score of 2-1 — they have won three straight in the confines of Providence Park since then in all competitions.

Salt Lake’s last five results look a little better, going 3-1-1 dating back to August 6th. However, only one of those matches was on the road and ended up being a 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders.

Match history

These two teams have met twice already this season with both games ending in a 2-2 draw, the last meeting coming on June 18th at Rio Tinto Stadium. The Timbers thought they had the late game winner from Darren Mattocks, but it was ruled offside and the game ended in a stalemate.

RSL holds the edge in the all-time series with a record of 5-4-7, outscoring the Timbers 22-19 overall.

Salt Lake’s defensive woes

RSL had to make some lineup changes for the LA game on Wednesday due to some minor tweak concerns which kept Justen Glad and Chris Schuler out of the 18. Glad has told reporters that he will be ready to go in Portland. Jamison Olave will miss the trip to Portland due to a one-game suspension handed down by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for violent conduct against Daniel Steres of the LA Galaxy, so who will we see alongside Glad in central defense? Jeff Cassar opted to start Chris Wingert at center back against LA, so it’s likely he’ll do the same on Saturday in Olave’s absence. We should see Schuler back on the bench, as well as another option in Phanuel Kavita.

Portland fans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they'll see both Alvas Powell and Darlington Nagbe back in the lineup as they return from international duty. Both have been crucial to the Timbers play this season and will provide a boost to the team’s recent home form.

Portland striker Fanendo Adi — with 13 goals and two assists on the season — will look to take advantage of RSL’s makeshift central defender pairing especially if Glad still turns up injured when it comes to game time. They’ll have to keep a careful eye on him as he’s known for getting into dangerous spots behind his opponent’s defense.

RSL has seen nothing short of a fantastic attack in recent games, outscoring opponents 11-6 in their last five games. With Joao Plata, Yura Movsisyan, and Burrito Martinez all notching goals within the last two matches, don’t expect RSL to come up scoreless in PDX.

RSL absences: Jamison Olave (out, suspension), Aaron Maund (out, broken toe), Emery Welshman (out, hip surgery), Sunny (questionable, facial fractures), Olmes Garcia (questionable, adductor)

Portland absences: Nat Borchers (out for season, ruptured achilles), Gbenga Arokoyo (questionable, groin), Zarek Valentin (questionable, bone bruise)

RSL expected lineup: Rimando; Phillips, Wingert, Glad, Beltran; Mulholland, Morales, Beckerman; Plata, Movsisyan, Martinez

Portland expected lineup: Gleeson; Powell, Ridgewell, S Taylor, Vytas; Jewsbury, Chara, Nagbe, Valeri; Mattocks, Adi