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What we’re watching in Portland Timbers vs Real Salt Lake

RSL play the Timbers at Providence Park where they have struggled in recent years

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

Real Salt Lake are in poor form at the moment. They’re winless in their last four league games, having suffered a 6-0 defeat against NYCFC last weekend and a midweek loss in the US Open Cup, they are in desperate need of a good result. However, Portland has been a tough place for them to play in recent years. They last played there in the Western Conference final in 2021, where they fell to the Timbers. PTFC have had a rougher start to the season, though. They’ve won just 2 of their 8 games and are in 9th in the west.

Better defense

The biggest issue against NYCFC was the defense. MacMath had a few big errors, but his backline didn’t do him any favors either. Tate Schmitt had a particularly rough day last Sunday. He’s a winger turned left-mid in Jamison Olave’s 2019 USL Championship winning team. That team played a three-back system, and Schmitt does better in that system under Mastroeni than he does as a traditional left back.

Against Northern Colorado Hailstorm in the Open Cup, Justen Glad went about 60 minutes. If he’s able to start against Portland, that’s a huge boost to the backline. He would displace Orozco, unless Pablo has the team play three at the back.

David Ochoa also played in the Open Cup and we’ll see if he’s ready to reclaim his starting spot from MacMath.

Creating chances

RSL needs a play maker. With the departure of Albert Rusnak, who wasn’t the most creative of play makers, RSL has an even bigger gap in how they create scoring chances. Against the Hailstorm, they kept sending the ball over the top, or cutting back from the wings, and that seemed like the only idea the team had. It’s simply not enough to take down MLS teams, especially when it didn’t work against a USL League One team. Rubio Rubin and Bobby Wood have felt nearly investable in the last few games they’ve played. They need to be better with the ball in the rare moments they have it.

Back at Providence

Providence Park has one of the best atmospheres in the US. The Timbers Army has done an incredible job of building support and a culture that makes their stadium a tough place to play. But with multiple scandals coming out from within the Timbers organization, a good number of their fans have stepped back in protest. I’m curious to see how that changes the feeling of Providence Park. It should be said that it’s more important that their message is received than how it changes the game day feel, but MLS and the Timbers seem set on admitting they did nothing wrong.

It’s a venue where RSL has struggled, with a bitter defeat in the Western Conference final last December still fresh, it will impact how the team feels about this game.

Injury report

Out: Zack Farnsworth (right ankle), Bret Halsey (ankle), Erik Holt (left foot), Johan Kappelhof (left calf), Jonathan Menendez (adductor)

Questionable: Damir Kreilach (back)