The Timbers come into this one having just snapped a four match winless skid with a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire. With the defense clicking once more -- the shutout against the Fire was the team's second in a row and tenth on the season -- the Timbers will be hoping that they can now start to pick up some points on the road, a necessity if they want to catch any of the current top four teams in the Western Conference.
Of course, taking road points is easier said than done in Major League Soccer, especially in the West. The Timbers, who are 3-7-2 on the road, will be facing one of the West's many sides with a strong home field advantage in Real Salt Lake, 5-1-6 in Rio Tinto. Those three road wins are as many as anyone else in the Western Conference barring the Vancouver Whitecaps, whose ridiculous seven road wins outstrip their six at home, giving the Timbers some glimmer of home at getting a result in Utah.
Any result for the Timbers will have to build from another strong defensive performance from the team's back line. With the back four starting to look consistent again after a period of injury, suspension, and call-up related upheaval and the pairing of Will Johnson and Diego Chara starting to get consistent minutes ahead of them, the Timbers look to be in a good position to keep getting the shutouts that kept the Timbers afloat in the early going this year.
If there is any intrigue for the Timbers going into this match it is in the attack, where new arrival Lucas Melano has been making waves since his arrival several weeks ago. Melano has been limited to substitution appearances so far, playing 72 minutes in three appearances, but could be thrust into the starting lineup after Fanendo Adi has been limited in his training this week following a strain picked up against the Fire.
Melano's competition for the start up top has to be fellow Argentine Maximiliano Urruti. While Urruti has struggled to make an impact in limited minutes this year, chalking up three goals and two assists in just under 1000 minutes, he has the advantage in fitness, the factor that Caleb Porter has repeatedly pegged as the reason for Melano's exclusion from the starting XI. Fitness will be a major factor for the Timbers in this match as they head to the famously difficult altitude in Sandy, Utah and Porter will almost certainly be keeping a keen eye on Menalo's ability to play a longer stretch in adverse conditions.
Real Salt Lake
Fitness will loom large in the minds of RSL as well as the team are coming off a difficult 3-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. With the full strength of RSL on the field for the semifinal loss, the home team will have a quick turnaround for tomorrow's match. Making this doubly impactful is the age of a number of RSL's most important contributors: Kyle Beckerman is 33, Nick Rimando is 36, and Javier Morales -- who has five goals and nine assists this season -- is 35.
While the RSL of 2015 have not been the world-beaters of years past, they have proved a challenge for most teams that have come up against them, including the Timbers in the two teams' 0-0 season opener, mostly thanks to the strong spine of the team and the strong defensive performances that it has allowed for.
Jamison Olave is already ruled out for this one with a quad strain that has sidelined him for the last two months and RSL's other first choice centerback, Chris Schuler, is also out injured with a sore knee. This gutted back line has not fared well in the absence of the preferred starters for RSL, giving up ten goals in Real's last two league matches, a 6-4 loss to D.C. United and a 4-0 loss to the Whitecaps.
Centerbacks Elias Vasquez and Aaron Maund, both youngsters and both quite inexperienced in MLS, have not been able to cope with the quick, physical play of D.C. and Vancouver, something that the Timbers will have to take their cue from tomorrow.
Further up the pitch, RSL are a bit of a mystery; capable of hanging four goals on the normally rock-solid D.C. defense once week, then getting shut out the next while taking only six shots to their opponent's thirteen. Morales has been the team's most dangerous contributor, as he has been since joining RSL back in 2007, but all of his supporting pieces have been inconsistent at best.
Even Sebastian Jaime, RSL's third designated player alongside Morales and Beckerman, has only started to come on recently, scoring four goals in the twelve games he has played this season. Joao Plata, the other player that RSL fans were expecting much from this season, has been sidelined with an injury for most of the season, only playing a handful of games himself.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. PT at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT
Portland Timbers: 10-8-6, 5th place in the Western Conference
Real Salt Lake: 7-9-8, 8th place in the Western Conference