Real Salt Lake Preview: Struggling Salt Lake Slipping in Standings

It's round three against Real Salt Lake, the last chance the Portland Timbers have to avoid a season sweep.

The Timbers' first two matches against Salt Lake were memorable ones, if not particularly happy memories. The first match featured a Darlington Nagbe brace -- two absolute crackers in the second half -- before the Timbers coughed up a 2-1 lead in the 89th minute and went on to lose 3-2.

The second unhappy memory was a 3-0 loss, featuring an Alvaro Saborio hat trick, that directly preceded the sacking of Coach John Spencer.

Since then, both teams have taken a bit of a tumble. In June, RSL was challenging the San Jose Earthquakes for the top record in the league. They've now slipped to fourth place behind the LA Galaxy after going 4-8-2 in fourteen games.

That's one point per match over a stretch comprising 41% of the season. Salt Lake have collected as many points per match over 14 games as the Timbers have over the course of the season. Not good, in other words.

The even worse news for Real Salt Lake fans is that things don't appear to be getting any better. They are 1-4-1 in their last six matches, having scored just three goals in that span.

They have, at the same time, been competing in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage. They have done reasonably well and currently need at least a win against Costa Rican side Herediano at home in order to advance, having just managed a win against Tauro in Panama.

But fatigue from being involved in two simultaneous competitions is quite insufficient to explain the MLS slump. After all, RSL was quite unfazed by the stress of a front-loaded MLS season, playing well on short rest numerous times during the first three months of the season. Besides, Tuesday's win in Panama was the first competition for the team of any kind in twelve days (except for Kyle Beckerman).

Defense has not been a problem either, with the exception of a fluke 5-0 loss to the Earthquakes earlier this summer. They have endured injuries to Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler, thanks to some impressive work from youngster Kwame Watson-Siriboe.

The problem has been the attack -- RSL has long established itself as a dangerous counter-attacking side, and they continue to create those same opportunities. But the finishing hasn't been there like it was in the early months of the season.

Still, RSL is always a difficult team, and as we well know teams in slumps have had a tendency to break out of them when Portland comes to town. Chris Wondolowski proved as much on Wednesday, going two months without a goal from the run of play, only to score two in quick succession. Alvaro Saborio's hat trick against Portland is a similar example.

The Timbers defense will need to remain vigilant, especially late in the match, or they will get punished, just as they have so many times before.

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