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Match preview: Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers

RSL and Portland play their first of 2 meetings to end the season while both try to stay above the playoff line. RSL looks to protect their 14-game home unbeaten streak.

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

With only three games remaining in the regular season, Real Salt Lake sits two points above the playoff line as they host the Portland Timbers this weekend, desperate for a win and a full three points to keep them in the playoff picture.

This is the first of two meetings between the teams this season, with the second match coming in just a couple of weeks as Real Salt Lake will travel to Portland on the 21st after taking on New England just a few days before.

Last season, RSL swept the series, besting the Timbers with a score of 4-1 on the road in July, while repeating the result at home with a 2-1 victory in September. Prior to that, RSL had been winless in eight against the Timbers with four losses and four draws.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 13-11-7 (45 points)
Table: 6th place (west), 11th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.48 (11th in MLS)
Most goals: Damir Kreilach (11)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (11)
Clean sheets: 7
Form: WWDLD

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It’s crunch time, seriously

This is it — the playoff push intensifies as RSL heads into the last three games of the season. We’ve been talking about playoffs for weeks now, but every game gets more important as RSL still sits within striking distance of the LA Galaxy, who are only two points behind them and just below the playoff line.

Still unbeaten

A stat that bodes well for RSL is their current home unbeaten streak, which now sits at 14. The good news for the home side? Two of their last three games are in the confines of Rio Tinto Stadium. The trick here, though, is they’ve got to get a full three points in at least one of them, if not both. A loss in either home game would be detrimental, as the Galaxy’s last two games of the season are against non-playoff contenders Minnesota United and the Houston Dynamo.

The guys undoubtedly know that this game against Portland is a vital six-point swing that could see RSL leapfrog them and potentially jump into fourth place with a win, while a loss could even drop them out of the playoff picture altogether if LA were to beat Sporting Kansas City this weekend.

“We’re above the playoff line. We’ve been there for four and a half months,” said coach Mike Petke after last week’s 1-1 draw against SKC. “It’s in our hands now. If we do what we have to do, then we will be okay. I’m not really score checking at this point.”

Honestly, it’s safe to say that if RSL can win both of their remaining home games, they’re all but guaranteed a playoff spot.

Cautions abound

Real Salt Lake has to play it cool while four of their players are still on yellow card accumulation warning, which means if Kyle Beckerman, Brooks Lennon, Marcelo Silva, or Sunny were to get a yellow card this weekend, they’d miss the next game with a suspension.

Potential positioning after this weekend

Best case: 4th place, with win and Seattle loss
Worst case: 7th place, with loss and LA Galaxy win

Portland Timbers

Record: 13-9-9 (48 points)
Table: 4th place (west), 7th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.55 (T-8th in MLS)
Most goals: Diego Valeri (10)
Most assists: Diego Valeri (10)
Clean sheets: 8
Form: WLWLD

MLS: FC Dallas at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Everything to play for

Portland is in just as much need of points as RSL, as they sit in fourth place — but barely. Only four points ahead of seventh-place Galaxy, they’re a loss or two away from falling below the playoff line altogether.

Less than stellar

Luckily for RSL, Portland has had a stretch of subpar form lately, winning only three of their last eleven games. Even further than that, the Timbers haven’t won on the road since the end of June, going 0-4-2 away from home since then. Now they find themselves in one of the toughest places to play all season, where RSL hasn’t lost a game since this year’s home opener.

In an even worse turn for Portland, they’ll be without their star defender Liam Ridgewell who received a red card in the dying minutes of stoppage time against FC Dallas last week.

Portland defender Liam Ridgewell is shown a straight red for this challenge in stoppage time against FC Dallas last week. Ridgewell will miss the match against RSL.

Win to clinch, maybe

With a win over RSL, Portland could clinch their playoff spot if the Galaxy lose to Kansas City, and Vancouver loses or draws against Toronto FC. It’s a big ask for the Timbers, but will fuel their players even further to push for a win in a place they haven’t won since October of 2015.

Potential positioning after this weekend

Best case: 3rd place, with win and LAFC loss
Worst case: 6th place, with loss and Seattle win or draw


Absences

Real Salt Lake
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles surgery), David Horst (torn achilles; out for season)

Portland Timbers
OUT: Roy Miller (thigh), Jake Gleeson (stress fracture), Liam Ridgwell (red card)
QUESTIONABLE: Jeff Attinella (hamstring)

Expected lineups

RSL: Rimando; Lennon, Glad, Besler, Herrera; Beckerman, Sunny; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; Kreilach

POR: Clark; Powell, Mabiala, Cascante, Villafana; Olum; Polo, Chara; Valeri; Ebobisse, Armenteros

Match info

When: Saturday, October 6, 7:30PM MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

Weather: 52 degrees, rainy

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

Referee: Robert Sibiga