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How RSL can beat Portland Timbers

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With a 4-1 win over Portland in recent memory, RSL has an opportunity to seal an important victory.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the future of our season is 100 percent at stake when we take on Portland Timbers.

That won’t be easy, given we’re playing a team that’s won three of their last four matches as part of a fairly substantial turnaround. They’re also fighting for the playoffs, and that will make them particularly dangerous.

How can RSL do it? Well, I’ve got some thoughts.

Stop Diego Valeri

No, really? I know this one’s obvious, but seriously. Diego Valeri is having the best season he’s ever had for the Timbers, I think. It’s certainly true in goalscoring terms — he’s got 17 to his name. He’ll probably score more this season. Hopefully, that won’t happen against us.

I won’t pretend to really know how you stop a player like Valeri, but I think it goes something like this: You have to really hassle him relentlessly. That would have been Kyle Beckerman’s role before, but I’d actually give that to Sunny. He’s a bit more on the aggressive side, and I don’t think his positioning is quite as good as Beckerman’s, which leaves the captain in a better position to cut out developing plays from other players.

Falsify the nine

I’ve written a fair bit about how I think Luis Silva’s playing as a false nine, but I’d like to take a moment to recognize that it’s not always the case. Sometimes, he doesn’t drop back with the frequency you’d expect from that role. It seems a bit like he might be playing higher up more recently, and with his goals count increasing steadily, it’s working.

But if he plays, I think I’d like to see him pulling defenders out of position again. In our last match against Portland, we saw him opening up lots of space for Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata to run, and that made all the difference in the match.

Get under their skin

Much like their coach, Portland Timbers have a thin skin, and they’ll react when they feel they’ve been wronged. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I guess, but it’s something we can exploit on Saturday. This doesn’t just have to be about fouling them unnecessarily or wasting time — it can be as simple as just hassling and harrying them when they’re in possession, or forcing them out of position.

If we can get them to react with anger, we might have a chance at destabilizing their tactical decisions, and that would leave us in a strong position.