The Portland Timbers are back to it today, only three days after coming away victorious in their 5-3 aggregate win over the Seattle Sounders in the team's first appearance in the MLS Playoffs. This time the Timbers take on the only Western Conference playoff team that they failed to take three points against this year: Real Salt Lake.
The Timbers got through their last match, Thursday's win over Seattle, fairly intact and managed to do so in 90'. Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, both of whom received some harsh treatment at the hands of the Sounders, made it through the match unscathed and we're pulled early on, giving them some vital rest ahead of today.
The Timbers are not likely to make any changes to their line up ahead of this one. Porter has repeatedly compared the systems of RSL and Seattle, so a change here would make little sense. Porter also went on record earlier in the week, saying that Ryan Johnson had laid claim to the starting spot at forward.
If there is one thing for the Timbers to keep an eye on it is the yellow card situation of their players. Currently Diego Chara, Pa Modou Kah, Rodney Wallace, and Ben Zemanski are on yellow cards in the playoffs, a second of which would see them suspended from the series' return leg in Portland. The loss of any of those four players, even a substitute like Zemanski, would be a big blow to the Timbers and would force Porter to change up his game plan.
Real Salt Lake
Unlike the Timbers, RSL is coming off a hard fought match that stretched into extra time as they sought to overcome the LA Galaxy, something that they eventually were able to do thanks to a Chris Schuler goal in the 102'. Playing 210' over the course of four days is a draining thing to do. Playing another 90' only four days later can leave teams exhausted. The playoff schedule has not been kind to RSL here. Their extra time against the Galaxy and one lest day of rest between the legs of their Conference Semifinal matches could be very draining, as any of the players in yesterday's Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City match could have told you if they were not on the verge of collapse after 60' of play.
Of course, RSL have the best record of any Western Conference team against the Timbers this year, posting two wins and two ties against Portland in MLS and US Open Cup play. The most recent match up between the two, however, was not quite as impressive a display from RSL as their previous appearances. The Timbers may not have been able to get on the board during the two team's 0-0 tie on 10/19, but they held RSL completely without a shot on goal, while wasting several chances of their own.
One player that RSL were missing in that match was Javier Morales, who was suspended due to yellow card accumulation at the time. Morales has racked up two goals and an assist against he Timbers this year in the three matches against Portland in which he has featured. RSL's Argentine playmaker, and friend of Diego Valeri, has been rounding back into form after several suspensions and injury related absences this year, but he looked sharp and dangerous as RSL overcame LA on Thursday.
While RSL are hoping that Morales continues to be dangerous, they will be without the services of start striker Alvaro Saborio thanks to a pulled muscle. Saborio has missed several big chunks of the season for RSL, scoring 12 goals despite only appearing in 16 matches, less than half of the team's matches in the 34 game regular season. Potential replacements for Saborio include Olmes Garcia or Robbie Findley, both of whom have shown flashes of talent this season, scoring 5 and 6 goals respectively.
Traveling to Salt Lake is never easy for away teams. The Timbers will certainly struggle to come away from this match with a lead, given that only three teams have managed to come away from Rio Tinto Stadium with three points this year. A draw or win would be fantastic for the Timbers, but even a one goal loss should probably considered a decent result.
Watch it on: ESPN
Kick off: 6:00 pm at Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy, UT)
Portland Timbers: 1st Seed in the Western Conference (57 points)
Real Salt Lake: 2th Seed in the Western Conference (56 points)