Tomorrow sees the Portland Timbers take flight back to the Rocky Mountain region to take on Real Salt Lake, the current second place holders in the Western Conference and third over all in the league. I know I've said it ad nauseam at this point, but tomorrow night is another great chance for the Timbers to earn their first road win and bring home a precious 3 points.
The good news is that, given some other choice results for the weekend, if the Timbers do win we could see them leap frog the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA with 22 points where they'll be tied for 5th in the Western Conference with the Colorado Rapids. That's play-off territory...
But before we can start thinking about that, we should get to know this RSL squad and what they've been up to since the Timbers lost to them at home, March 31st. To help with that, I spoke with Denz of SB Nation's Real Salt Lake blog: RSL Soapbox.
Real Salt Lake are currently second in the Western Conference, third over all. Looking back on this season, what do you attribute to RSL's overall success this season?
I think early on this season RSL was very fortunate that two things worked out well for them. First, some younger and new players stepped up in a big way, guys like Luis Gil, Sebastian Velasquez, and Jonny Steele played a huge role in the early part of the season for RSL and that helped the team deal with some injury issues they faced out of the gate when the MLS season kicked off. Second, capitalizing on mistakes, for the first 3 months of the season it was RSL that was taking full advantage of mistakes made by other teams, especially late in matches, and by not getting our mistakes punished by opponents. That however changed in June, when RSL struggled to make teams pay for their mistakes, and when other teams like LA and San Jose forced RSL to pay when they made even the slightest mistake. Still when you hit the halfway point of the season and you are in second place you have to consider it a real success, even more so knowing that your first choice lineup hasn't been able to see much action on the pitch as a unit.
Despite the current position, however, RSL currently only has a single win in the last five matches. What's gone wrong? Who is missing?
Great question, I was thinking about this a lot lately and to me it has come down to two things, first is that much of the success RSL has had over the last couple seasons has been based on the team playing with a large chip on their shoulder, ignored by national TV, and often by the league itself, RSL became the ultimate underdog. This year however with two of our players categorized as DP's and a lot of recognition on and off the pitch, it seems like the team became a bit comfortable with themselves and may have lost a bit of that RSL vs. The World edge that served them so well.
Second, is what I see as a lack of aggressiveness on the offensive side of the ball. RSL has dominated possession in each of their last 5 matches, but they have failed to take advantage of that, the RSL game plan is rather simple, you control a match with a lot of short precise passes, completed at a high percentage, which results in possession, which should lead to changes on goal and goals. Instead we have seen some players pass up shots, others look for better opportunities and often that has resulted in missed scoring chances. It is as there is some little voice inside the heads of RSL players telling them that they are being talked about as the team that plays beautiful soccer in MLS, and that results in trying to make the perfect opportunities happen, instead of taking the opportunities that are being given.
We know about Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, and Javier Morales as being play makers for the team. Who are some of the lesser known RSL players that also make a big impact and can cause some serious damage?
I think Timbers fans will remember Jonny Steele, if they forgot about him just go back and watch highlights of our 3-2 win at Jeld-Wen back in March, I would also mention a guy that gets overlooked far too often, Ned Grabovoy. Ned isn't a guy who forces you to pay attention to him, until it is too late. He has quality on and off the ball, and while he most often is playing a mix of creative and defensive roles, he has the ability to make opponents pay if they don't pay attention to him.
You also have to consider the impact that our two guys who made their debuts on Wednesday night could have on the match as Kwame Watson-Siriobe and Kenny Mansally looked very sharp in their first minutes on the pitch for RSL. Kwame was very solid at center back and provides the team with a big target on set piece opportunities, while Kenny Mansally made a loud point that he could quickly become one of the more dangerous outside backs in MLS. A combination of pace and vision really could make Kenny a very regular part of the RSL lineup either starting or as a late match pick me up at a number of positions.
Predicted starting line up?
Huge thanks to Denz for catching us up on Real Salt Lake. If you'd like to read more about tomorrow's opponent, check out his blog: RSL Soapbox.
Now for some pre-game discussion:
- Who do you think is the biggest threat on RSL's squad?
- Given the Timbers' recent road performances, what kind of team do you expect to show up in Salt Lake City?
- Game predictions?