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Match preview: Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers

It all comes down to one game for RSL. Win and they’re in the playoffs. Anything else will need some help from other Western Conference teams if they want to make it into the postseason.

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

Well, this is it. Real Salt Lake’s last chance to make it in the playoffs. It’s the last game of the regular season, and RSL travels to Portland to take on the team who just beat them at home 4-1 a couple weeks ago.

It’s the last game of the regular season, and RSL has everything to play for.

They still control their postseason fate — win this game and they clinch a playoff spot. If they lose or draw, they’ll need some help from other teams in order to still qualify.

The last time these sides met, RSL looked a little lost out there, to be honest. Portland scored first thanks to a goal in the 33rd minute from Jeremy Ebobisse, while Jefferson Savarino equalized just 22 minutes later. Portland really let loose in the final 20 minutes, scoring three unanswered — two from Sebastian Blanco and the final nail in the coffin scored by Lucas Melano, handing RSL just their second loss at home all season.

Real Salt Lake will look to get a little revenge and secure their playoff spot at Providence Park, and it’ll be anything but easy.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 14-12-7 (49 points)
Table: 6th place (west), 10th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.48 (11th in MLS)
Most goals: Damir Kreilach (12)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (11)
Clean sheets: 7
Form: DLDLW

MLS: New England Revolution at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Stayin’ alive

After snapping a four-game winless skid in a big way at home with a 4-1 victory over the New England Revolution, RSL finds themselves alive and well in the playoff race, with a very simple mission: win and they’re in.

To make things a little brighter for RSL, Mike Petke’s lineup gamble paid off in a big way when he rested Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino, and Joao Plata who had just come back from international duty the day before. He also chose to put Justen Glad on the bench and opted to start both Marcelo Silva and Nedum Onuoha in central defense — the first time Justen Glad hasn’t started all season.

To boot, both Kyle Beckerman and Sunny are available after serving their one-game suspension, so Petke will be spoiled for choice in his starting lineup with fresh legs.

Decisions, decisions

Still, that doesn’t make it easy to predict what lineup he’ll actually go with, as Rookie of the Year candidate Corey Baird has found his stride again, grabbing a goal and an assist while playing a big part in a third goal against New England as well. Damir Kreilach had an excellent night playing the attacking midfielder position, but we can expect Rusnak to start there so it’ll be interesting to see if Petke decides to move Kreilach back to a holding mid, or start him up top where Baird would normally play.

He’ll also need to make a big decision for his center back pairing, as he’s got four healthy guys capable of starting in Justen Glad, Marcelo Silva, Nick Besler, and now Nedum Onuoha. The Glad/Besler combination has been somewhat hot and cold as of late, but Marcelo Silva has only played two games since coming back from injury, so it’s really up in the air as to which way Petke will go.

Potential wildcard matchup pairings

With a win, RSL will jump ahead of Portland by one point and into fifth place. Obviously, whether they finish fifth or sixth, they’ll be playing the wildcard knockout game on the road. If they win, and the table stays the same through the end of the season, they would travel to Seattle for the knockout game. If they finish sixth, they’d be heading to take on Los Angeles FC.

Of course, the standings could change before the end of the season, but there’s no easy team to beat on the road in this group regardless.

Absences

OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles), David Horst (achilles)

Projected Lineup

Rimando; Lennon, Besler, Glad, Herrera; Beckerman, Kreilach; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; Baird

Portland Timbers

Record: 14-9-9 (51 points)
Table: 5th place (west), 8th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.59 (8th in MLS)
Most goals: Diego Valeri (10)
Most assists: Diego Valeri (11)
Clean sheets: 8
Form: LWLDW

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

Fresh legs

It’s been two weeks since Portland’s last game — the 4-1 rout at Rio Tinto Stadium over our very own RSL. They’ve had two weeks to rest and recover, though they did have a couple players out on international duty during the break who saw significant minutes.

Midfielder David Guzman played 79 minutes on October 11th and 90 minutes on October 16th for Costa Rica, while midfielder Andy Polo saw 14 minutes on October 12th and another 89 minutes on October 16th for Peru. Both players are regular starters for the Timbers.

Playoff positioning on the line

Portland is fighting for their own playoff fate, as a win here would clinch their playoff spot as well as potentially jumping into fourth place, depending on how Seattle does against Houston. Not only are they hoping to clinch a spot, but they’ll be looking to be able to host their wildcard matchup on their own turf. A loss in this game would send them into Decision Day hoping for the best against Vancouver as the regular season comes to a close.

Portland knows that coming out on top over RSL at home won’t be an easy feat, either, regardless of the last game’s scoreline. “They have a good team, good players, they are a difficult team and they’re going to be tough to play against at home,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said to MLSSoccer.com. “Petke, I played with him, I know him well, he’s a good coach, he’s done well and he’s going to prepare for the match to try to bring the best that he can. It’s going to be a tough game. It’s going to be competitive.”

Absences

OUT: Roy Miller (thigh), Jake Gleeson (tibial stress fracture)
QUESTIONABLE: Alvas Powell (head injury), Jeff Attinella (shoulder)

Projected Lineup

Clark; Valentin, Mabiala, Tuiloma, Villafana; Chara, Guzman; Polo, Valeri, Blanco; Ebobisse


Match info

When: Sunday, October 21, 3:00PM MT

Where: Providence Park — Portland, OR

Weather: 69 degrees, sunny

Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV, ESPN+, ESPN700 (radio)

Referee: Ismail Elfath