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What we’re watching in RSL vs. Portland Timbers

Two teams in good form will face off on Saturday night in beautiful Sandy, Utah.

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

Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers are both 5-2-3 for their last ten matches. Portland’s 4-1 loss to RSL in mid-July will be fresh in the minds of all the players. This should give RSL confidence to go for a win, and the Timbers an axe to grind. If Real lose this game, it’s a safe bet that we’ll have a nice long offseason.

Battle for position

Real’s left back, defensive mid (alongside Beckerman), and center forward are the positions where there is no guaranteed starter. While we all have our own preferences, as the team has come out of a state of constant injury into relative health, those three spots are still heavily rotated. At the left back position, this should be Demar Phillip’s spot, but he’s spent so much time injured this season that it has come down to Chris Wingert and Danny Acosta. Acosta is coming off a red card suspension, so we’re likely to see him get the nod for this game.

In the midfield, Beckerman and Rusnak have cemented their roles, but in the 4-3-3 system, it leaves that other D-mid spot open for debate. Mulholland has been exciting in his recent games and certainly keeps his mind on moving forward, but Sunny is the more likely choice due to his defensive reliability and better passing stats. The last spot has been discussed quite a lot over the last few months. It’s Silva vs. Yura. I don’t want to go too far into that discussion, but as Silva has moved off the injury list, who gets a start up top is significant. A great read on this topic can be found below:

With any of these spots, it’s the point in the season where we’ve figured out an identity as a team, and now we get to see who fills out these three roles, at least for now.

Defending as a team

One of the biggest struggles against Vancouver was the defending. The defensive failures didn’t just come from defenders, Justen Glad had a very good performance, but the team as a whole didn’t get back to help out enough. The third Whitecaps goal came from a bad giveaway from Plata in our half. When attackers contribute to both sides of the ball, that gets wins. Valeri and Audi are two very dangerous players (17 & 10 goals on the season, respectively), and I’m curious to see how we deal with them.

The man between the sticks

Nick Rimando is the greatest MLS keeper there has ever been. There’s not much more that can be said on the subject. He leads the league in so many stats. He’s been our number one for years. But a day will come when he is no longer with the team. It could be next season, it could be in two. He’s a very highly paid player, which is unusual for keepers. It’s worth keeping one eye on him and one on the future to think about what we want going forward. If Nick still has it in him, I love having him on the team. If he doesn’t, then he’ll be one of the hardest players to replace in club history. With the number of games left this season, I’m starting to wonder if he’ll be around, so beyond evaluating his play, I want to soak in his time with the club in the off chance it’s his last season. And we need him to stop shots from some very good players on the night.