There's no denying it, as much pride as I have for the Portland Timbers, it's easy to mark Real Salt Lake as the best team in the league in terms of on-field success. Having only played four games in regular season play they currently sit at 2nd place in the Western Conference and the league as a whole. This is compared to the Los Angeles Galaxy who are in first place but have played a total of eight games.
I won't lie to you. Despite our impressive home game displays against both the Chicago Fire and FC Dallas, we are most certainly the underdogs in this game. Real Salt Lake has an incredibly deep squad, so deep, in fact, that when their reserves played the New England Revolution a couple weeks ago they won handily, 2 - 0. Granted New England wishes they had our atmosphere, but it's still something to take note of and worry about heading into tomorrow night's game.
I was lucky enough to be able to snag a few questions from fellow SB Nation blogger Denz who writes for RSL Soapbox for this preview.
Coming off a CONCACAF Champions League Defeat
This is kind of a double edged sword we're dealing with this weekend. On the one hand Real Salt Lake is coming off a very exhausting and mentally weakening game on Wednesday where they lost 1 - 0 (3 - 2 on aggregate) the CCL Finals. It was a blow to the team and, honestly for the league as a whole. Many of you will remember my wanting Real Salt Lake to be run ragged, but ultimately win. The reason for that would be to ensure they were both tired and complacent. Unfortunately, they lost.
The good news here is that the team is most definitely going to be exhausted. According to RSL Soapbox:
I expect that some players will get a rest on Saturday, clearly the loss has had a huge impact on the players who put so much on the line in the match on Wednesday night, but knowing this team they have been very good about dealing with both success and adversity so I think they will be OK mentally. Physically they will be a bit tired, thankfully the flight is a short one. With the match being on turf (even really good turf) I would expect that Jamison Olave and Alvaro Saborio will probably not start in the match.
I've also heard from the "Twitterverse" that Fabian Espindola and Robbie Russell will also not be making the trip. If true this could be a huge boon for our own team.
The bad news here is that Real Salt Lake is not a team to take a defeat lightly. You can rest assured that whoever does come to Portland tomorrow will be out for blood. They want a win badly to get back onto their feet as soon as possible. We are, unfortunately, the rebound team for such a return.
Players to watch for
Despite not showing up with their stars, Real Salt Lake, as already mentioned, is an incredibly deep squad right now. This won't be an easy match no matter how you slice it. Here are a couple of players the Portland Timbers should look out for who are likely to get the start care of Denz (via RSL Soapbox):
[First] Paulo Jr. He is simply explosive on the pitch, he has speed that will keep defenders on their heels and a touch on the ball that will have opposing players doing a bit of ball watching. Then is his nose for goal, he is a pure striker who loves to finish either with his feet or with his head. I think given the questionable defense that the Portland Timbers have been able to muster in their matches that they will really be tested by him.
Collen Warner is [another] one, he is a kid that will be a kind of coming home for the match and will likely have a good number of family and friends in the stands. He has shown in limited minutes that he is very likely going to be the next attacking midfielder for RSL, be that playing the more tradition role in the middle or working on the outside of the RSL diamond.
I also think that you have to be very aware of the play of Arturo Alvarez, while the results on Wednesday weren't what we wanted he showed in the first leg of the CCL that he can make a difference quickly in a match, and I thought he was very good against [the] New England Revolution . Those two guys are players who I think will really step up their effort against the Portland Timbers, they are trying to secure more minutes with the first team and so every chance they get to play they will be giving it all they have.
Predicted starting line-up
Finally here is Denz's predicted starting line up for tomorrow's match up:
Kyle Reynish; Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert; Andy Williams, Kyle Beckerman, Collen Warner, Will Johnson; Arturo Alvarez, Paulo Jr.
If true I relish the idea of not having to go up against Nick Rimando in goal. While Donovan Ricketts is easily one of the best goalkeepers in the league right now, I'd say Nick Rimando is the best goalkeeper in the league right now. Despite his relative shortness (5'10") for a goalkeeper, he's got a fantastic head on his shoulders to make some truly jaw dropping saves. While this line-up is only a best estimation, if true it would only make the Portland Timbers' job that much easier.
I hope you enjoyed this brief look into Real Salt Lake. Feel free to discuss and ask questions in the comments. I should have the match thread up by noon tomorrow.