It's always good to see your home team play on your home field. Despite my continuing, lingering illness I'm fully looking forward to the game tonight, complete with the usual Timbers Army festivities. There's just nothing like that energy.
In fact, heading into tonight's game, I'm fully confident that the Timbers Army are the team's best weapon against Real Salt Lake. Sure, some of the Real Salt Lake players might say that a raucous crowd might encourage rather than intimidate them, but they've also yet to play in front of us. Even Seattle with its bajillion* attendance levels can't match our enthusiasm and vitriol.
Anyway, I highlight our atmospheric advantages tonight because, in all honesty we're gonna need it against a team as deep and technically skillful as Real Salt Lake. Let's take a look.
Assessing Our Team
Last week showed us and the league that there are still holes to fill in the Portland Timbers line up, especially when playing against particularly deep squads like the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. At no point last week did I ever feel the Portland Timbers were the ones controlling the game. Luckily for us, one of the few bright spots for the Timbers last week is probably going to get the start this week. I am, of course, referring to our Designated Player, Diego Chara.Diego Chara brought an important piece to our game last week. While the result was still negative, their was a creative element in the midfield brought by Diego Chara that wasn't there before when James Marcelin was playing alongside Jack Jewsbury. In fact, it's something that hasn't been there since we started regular season play. With Diego Chara (and this might be a little early to say) I feel like we'll be seeing many more balls come through the middle in service to either Kenny Cooper or Jorge Perlaza.
Here's my predicted starting line up:
Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, Futty Danso, Eric Brunner, Steve Purdy; Khalif Alhassan, Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe; Jorge Perlaza, Kenny Cooper
Troy Perkins comes in as our first keeper, as expected. Last week's goals weren't entirely his fault as the Los Angeles Galaxy was simply breaking through our defense time and again. Additionally, I expect Darlington Nagbe will be given the starting spot of Jeremy Hall for this game. It's time we give this kid a real shot at becoming a star for the team.
Assessing the Enemy
I created a nice preview for Real Salt Lake yesterday, which I strongly encourage you to check out. The short version, however, is that Real Salt Lake are currently the best team in the league right now. After an impressive run to the CONCACAF Champions League Finals, they're still second in the entire league with only four games played thus far. To put that in perspective, the Los Angeles Galaxy (first in the league) has played 8 games and are only three points ahead of them. Our own team has played six games.
Beyond that, they're simply an incredibly deep squad, so deep in fact that their reserves handily beat the New England Revolution's first team 2 - 0 a couple weeks ago. Given RSL's recent CCL streak we'll be facing a similar situation. While I like it better than the first team, especially if Nick Rimando stays home, I still worry about the team itself.
Here's their projected starting line up:
A number of notables absent from this list include Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio, Fabian Espindola, and Jamison Olave. While this is merely a guess by Denz over at RSL Soapbox, if true this can only work in our favor as each of these players has been instrumental in Real Salt Lake's success.
One name that does stand out, however, is team captain Kyle Beckerman, who was suspended for the CCL Final game. As such he's fully expected to play right in the middle.
As I mentioned above, playing at Jeld-Wen Field isn't easy. We, the fans/Timbers Army, make it difficult even for the most steadfast teams. Still, no game should ever be considered "easy" least of all any game playing against Real Salt Lake. I'm expecting a win tonight (I always expect a win from Portland) but I'm not expecting a shut out. We've yet to shut anybody out and I certainly wouldn't expect Real Salt Lake of all teams to let 90 minutes go without a single goal against us.
Tonight's game kicks off at 7:30PM. If you're unable to attend you can watch it live on Root Sports.