As the Portland Timbers take on Real Salt Lake tomorrow the fate of the Western Conference hangs in the balance. With no playoff spots yet clinched in the West, the Timbers can secure their berth with a win, while a win for RSL would put them back in first place and secure a playoff spot as well. A meeting between the first and second place teams this late in the season with so much on the line is a rarity and holds plenty of promise for fireworks.
Here is what you need to know about the two teams:
With his injury in the 84' of the Timbers' 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders, Maximiliano Urruti looks likely to miss tomorrow's match. Without Urruti to bring his high speed, high pressure presence to the Timbers' front line, Ryan Johnson looks like the probable starter in his place. Johnson brings a different look up top for the Timbers, making direct runs and holding the ball up, rather than the quick interplay that Urruti has brought to the table for the last three games.
Johnson is not the only option at forward for the Timbers, with Jose Adolfo Valencia having shown that he can play at the top of the Timbers' formation while picking up three assists in starts against Chivas USA and Toronto FC back in September. Frederic Piquionne is also back and healthy, having played his first minutes with the first team since injuring his ankle at the start of August on Sunday. Piquionne looks unlikely to start, certainly, but his continued presence on the bench would give the Timbers a soft touch and an aerial presence that neither Johnson nor Trencito can provide.
Despite the turmoil up front, the Timbers should continue on with the same back line that they have used for the last four games. In those four games the Timbers have only given up two goals, none of which have come at Jeld-Wen Field. Even disregarding the changes to the Timbers' line up, the team has only given up three goals since they last took on RSL in a 4-2 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium at the end of August.
Our expected Timbers line-up:; ,
Real Salt Lake
In their last five games, including the 1-0 loss to DC United in the US Open Cup, Salt Lake have only won once. Worryingly for the kings of Salt Lake, they've dropped important points to several low on the table clubs including slumping FC Dallas and the surging San Jose Earthquakes. What's worse, both of those losses came at Rio Tinto Stadium, where Salt Lake set a record for the longest home undefeated streak only two years ago (since surpassed by the Houston Dynamo).
RSL has suffered from a number of call ups and injuries this season with Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, and Alvaro Saborio all making regualr appearances with their national teams. Saborio has been the biggest loss for the team this year, playing in less than half of RSL's matches this season. Despite this, Saborio has still managed to chip in eleven goals in 14 games, including one goal against Portland in the two teams' last meeting at the end of August. Since that match, however, Saborio has only played one other match for RSL, the team's 1-1 tie against Dallas last week in which he scored the lone Salt Lake goal. Saborio is a probable starter against the Timbers and will give a Timbers back line, who have shut down some of the league's best in recent weeks, a run for their money.
Missing for RSL will be Javier Morales thanks to a suspension for yellow card accumulation. Morales, now 33, has been the heart of this RSL team since arriving in MLS back in 2007. Finally, however, RSL have a player ready to step into the play-making midfielder's role in Luis Gil, the 19 year old Generation Adidas player who has been attracting admirer's around the league this season with his sharp passing and deft technical skill.
In the three meetings between RSL and the Timbers, the two teams have combined for fifteen goals, almost as many as DC United have scored in this entire season. When compared to the Timbers remarkably stingy home record, this is a very difficult match to predict. Does the history between these two teams outweigh their recent form? It seems likely.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kick off: 7:30 pm at Jeld-Wen Field
Portland Timbers: 53 points, 1st in the Western Conference.
Real Salt Lake: 52 points, 2nd in the Western Conference.