As long as the Portland Timbers are vying with Real Salt Lake for the top spot in the Western Conference, match ups between the two teams will be hugely important. The two teams faced off only two weeks ago in a hard fought US Open Cup match that saw Real Salt Lake narrowly come out on top on their home turf. Now the Timbers are hoping that the home field advantage works out just as well for them with RSL in town.
Here is what you need to know about the two teams:
The Timbers find themselves missing a key component from the line-up this week in team captain Will Johnson. Johnson's absence will keep Ben Zemanski in the Timbers line-up and give the team a slightly different structure to its midfield. With Johnson in, both he and Diego Chara alternate pushing forward and taking part in the attack. Zemanski, in his appearances in the center of the pitch, has provided a more defensive look this year, tending to stay at home and protect the defense and leaving the attacking play to Chara.
The biggest question mark for the Timbers will be the potential inclusion of Alvas Powell in the line-up tonight. After going ninety minutes at right back against FC Dallas on Saturday, Powell seems likely to get the start again from Caleb Porter as the Timbers will look to take the game to their opponents. However, the young Jamaican has only been with the Timbers for just over a month now and playing two games in four days could take its toll on his fitness.
Real Salt Lake
After quietly climbing up to the top position in MLS as early season darlings like the Montreal Impact stumbled midway through the season, Real Salt Lake now look primed for a stumble of their own. With only one win in their last five league games, RSL have been in something approaching a slump recently. Losses to the New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City, and, over the weekend, the LA Galaxy, have shown that RSL are not on another level from the other elite teams in MLS.
As the Timbers are without their captain, so are RSL. Defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman is RSL's big loss for this game after his suspension due to yellow card accumulation against the Galaxy. The loss of Beckerman will have an important impact on Real Salt Lake as he is one of the best midfielders in the league. Beckerman is a big part of RSL's ability to quickly break out and hit teams on the counter thanks to his remarkable passing and ability to see the field of play. Stepping in for Beckerman will likely be Yordany Alvarez. Alvarez is defensively sound, although he seems prone to picking up cards for dangerous tackles, like the one earlier this year on Tim Cahill that got him suspended for three games.
Although the Timbers' win over Dallas was a good start for a push back up the table, tonight's match could put them on top for the second time this season. RSL is a talented, well-coached team, and had one of the best road records in the league. Still, they are vulnerable right now and the Timbers have the tools to take advantage of that.
Watch it on: ROOT SPORTS
Kick off: 8:00 pm at Jeld-Wen Field
Portland Timbers: 38 points, 3rd in the Western Conference.
Real Salt Lake: 41 points, 1st in the Western Conference.