The Portland Timbers find themselves once again facing off against Real Salt Lake in the U.S. Open Cup tonight, coming up against the team that knocked them out in the semi-finals in 2013, their deepest ever run in the competition.
With tonight's match coming just three days after the Timbers ran roughshod over the Seattle Sounders, notching a 4-1 win over their bitter rivals, we will almost certainly see a very different starting XI than we did on Sunday. With Diego Valeri, Will Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, and Diego Chara all mentioned by Caleb Porter as unlikely to play against Real Salt Lake, expect a complete overhaul of the Timbers' midfield in this one.
With Maximiliano Urruti, Gaston Fernandez, Rodney Wallace, and Michael Nanchoff looking like strong possibilities to get the start in the Timbers' attack, backed up by George Fochive and Jack Jewsbury coming from their holding midfield spots, the Timbers will certainly look to get Nanchoff cutting in to the center of the pitch and playing behind the forward pairing of Fernandez and Urruti. This will lave the Timbers open on the right, giving Alvas Powell room to roam forward, but also putting additional pressure on the centerbacks and holding midfielders to cover out wide in an area that RSL prefer to attack through.
Those additional defensive responsibilities should not be a significant hindrance with the return of Liam Ridgewell to the lineup. Regardless of who he is partnered with, Ridgewell should be more than capable of working with either Borchers or Paparatto to provide cover as they push out wide.
It will be important for the Timbers to keep a solid presence in the center of the pitch as RSL prefer to work the ball down the flanks then get it central to create most of their shots rather than driving from the outside and taking a wide-angle shot. To that end, Jewsbury, and his partnership with Fochive, will be particularly important in determining the outcome of this match for the Timbers as they will need to provide cover in the center of the pitch and pick up RSL's bevy of talented but misfiring attacking midfielders.
Real Salt Lake
Sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference, Real Salt Lake have struggled this year as the team has dealt with injuries, call ups, and a league leading six red cards, all combining to keep RSL constantly juggling their lineups. Formationally RSL, once renowned for the their dedication to the 4-4-2 diamond, have also been forced into many changes over the course of the season. In the early going of 2015, head coach Jeff Cassar looked to switch RSL over to a 4-3-3, but as the team failed to find results RSL have also tried returning to the 4-4-2 diamond, a 4-1-3-2, and, most recently, a 4-2-3-1.
For this match, with the number of players that RSL are once again missing, it seems likely that they will stick with the 4-2-3-1. Currently missing from the side are defenders Jamison Olave, Chris Schuler, and Justin Gald, all due to injury; while keeper Nick Rimando, midfielder Kyle Beckerman, and forward Alvoro Saborio are all missing due to international call ups for the upcoming Gold Cup.
Although RSL have struggle to get on the score sheet this season, running out the 4-2-3-1 should allow them to get the most out of a group of young and talented attacking midfielders. Luis Gil has been making his name in MLS for six years now, but is still only 21 years old. An attacking midfielder who can play centrally or out wide, expect Gil to be the difference maker for RSL in this match. If he can turn it on and link up with his fellow attacking players, likely including 20 year old Jordan Allen and 22 year old Olmes Garcia, then the Timbers will have plenty to deal with up top.
The wildcard here for RSL has to be designated player Javier Morales. Although the 35 year old attacking midfielder has dealt with injuries this season, he has been back and looking strong in recent matches. RSL will certainly want Morales fresh for Saturday's home match against Orlando City FC, but he is coming off a red card suspension that forced him to rest during last Saturday's 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew and could potentially play a role for RSL in both matches.
RSL's other designated player, outside of Morales and Saborio, is Sebastian Jaime, a 28 year old Argentine forward. Signed late in the 2014 season, it took Jaime until recently to score his first MLS goal and his misfiring has been a real issue for RSL, who have been without the services of Saborio for the majority of the 2015 season. Like many of the RSL starters, Jaime played on Saturday against Columbus and will likely play this upcoming Saturday against Orlando, making his inclusion in the starting lineup questionable. If Cassar does decide to go with Jaime, RSL will have a speedy, skillful forward who will press the Timbers' back line and potentially make things happen. Moreover, Jaime has scored two goals in his last three games, making him the hottest player on RSL's roster.
While the RSL attack is somewhat up in the air still, the back line and holding midfielders look close to set. Jeff Attinella, the best backup in MLS, will step in for Nick Rimando. Rimando is, of course, the bane of the Timbers' existence, and Attinella has learned well from him, but still can't measure up to the sheer frustration that Rimando's stupidly fast reflexes have inflicted on Timbers fans in the past.
In front of Attinella, RSL are missing their top three centerbacks to injury and will likely end up going with 24 year old Aaron Maund, a fourth stringer with a handful appearances in MLS over the last four years, and rookie homegrown player Phanuel Kavita. The pairing are talented, but neither is the sort of back-line leader that RSL will want without Olave, Rimando, or even Beckerman around. Fernandez and Urruti, if they can keep up the stellar off-ball movement and quick interplay that they have been showing in recent weeks, should match up favorably against these two.
There should be several experienced players somewhere on the field for RSL at least as Tony Beltran and Abdoulie Mansally seem likely to line up at fullback for RSL. Both are dangerous going forward and the Timbers will want to do everything in their power to keep them pinned back. Mansally, a former forward, can be dangerous in the attack and will need to be watched for going on the counter.
Watch it on: Streaming on Timbers.com
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. PT at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT
Portland Timbers: Beat Seattle Sounders 3-1 in the 4th round of the USOC
Real Salt Lake: Beat Seattle Sounders 2 2-1 in the 4th round of the USOC