This evening the Portland Timbers take on Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in the biggest game in the team's history. Not only is a berth in the US Open Cup Final on the line, but the winner will also be the final's host. It is certainly a tall order for the Timbers to go to a stadium with one of the best home field advantages in the US, but the Timbers are focused on getting their ambitions for silverware back on track and this is a great chance to do so.
Here is what you need to know about the two teams:
The Timbers should be coming into this one with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. This is a team that has only lost three times all season and, after finishing 2012 with only 34 points in 8th place in the Western Conference, currently have 35 points with twelve games yet to play. The Timbers have made a remarkable turnaround from last year, only to come up with a draw against their rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps that was labeled "disappointing" despite huge advantages in shots and possession.
As they look to prove themselves against the best in the league, the Timbers will likely bring a much more attacking attitude than RSL are used to seeing from visitors. With the probable return of Diego Chara alongside Will Johnson in the center of the pitch, the Timbers will have much more fluidity from their midfield when compared to last Saturday's more stationary shift from Jack Jewsbury in his first CDM shift in quite a while. They will seek to use the movement of Chara and Johnson, along with the passing of Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, to pull apart RSL's well organized midfield.
Our expected Timbers line-up: Donovan Ricketts; Michael Harrington, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah, Jack Jewsbury; Will Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara; Rodney Wallace, Ryan Johnson, Diego Valeri.
Real Salt Lake
Despite their top of the table position, Real Salt Lake has stumbled recently and will be looking to recover with a win over the Timbers. Missing several of their more important players for large swaths of the season thanks to international call ups has contributed to a recent string of rocky result for Real, but by and large those players are now back. Alvaro Saborio, who has eight goals in ten games for RSL this year, is probably the most impactful of those players, already having scored in his first game back since his time with the Costa Rican National Team.
RSL may have talent at every position, but their midfield has been the class of the league since 2008, the year after the arrival of Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales. Beckerman is well known to fans of MLS and the United States Mens National Team for his passing and control of the midfield (as well as his huge dreadlocks), while Morales has been the creative engine behind RSL's attack since coming to MLS, even being named the the league's MVP in 2010. However, as we found out in our preview interview with RSL Soapbox, Morales is recovering from an injury and the possibility of playing 120 minutes could see him sit, but this just seems like too big of a game for him to miss.
Our expected Salt Lake line-up: Nick Rimando; Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Carlos Salcedo, Tony Beltran; Luis Gil, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy; Olmes Garcia, Alvaro Saborio.
Tonight's match up is huge; both for the Timbers as a franchise and for the Timbers as a team. The Timbers may not have many losses, but if they are going to take home any silverware this season they will need to show that they can rise to the occasion and win games. Right now there are only four teams in MLS with fewer wins than the Timbers and, while this will not change that statistic, this is a great chance to start building some momentum heading toward the end of the season.
Watch it on: ROOT SPORTS
Kick off: 6:30 pm at Rio Tinto Stadium
Portland Timbers: 35 points, 3rd in the Western Conference.
Real Salt Lake: 38 points, 1st in the Western Conference.