The Portland Timbers have returned home after last weekend’s loss to the league leaders, FC Dallas, and are set to play host to another one of the top teams in the West as Real Salt Lake come to town. In two meetings this year the Timbers and RSL have tied twice, both ending 2-2, but shared points will not do for the Timbers this time as they need to set the pace in the run in to the playoffs.
Sitting in the sixth place spot, the Timbers have only a three point buffer over the trailing pack and each home win will be vital as they strive to stay above that red line. For their part, RSL are currently in second place in the West, but have the LA Galaxy and Colorado Rapids breathing down their necks as they try to hang on to a playoff bye.
Coming into this match, the Timbers are largely injury free and have all three of last week’s international absences —Darlington Nagbe, Alvas Powell, and Jermaine Taylor — back and available for selection. Nagbe and Powell will certainly slot back into the Timbers’ starting XI, leaving Caleb Porter with the the same XI available that won out 4-2 over the Seattle Sounders in the Timbers last home match two weeks ago.
More than that, however, it leaves the Timbers with options on hand to make a change if one is necessary. The return of Darren Mattocks to the 18, playing 45’ against Dallas, gives the Timbers a wide player who is able and willing to get to the end line and cut balls into the box, something that the duo of Nagbe and Lucas Melano do not specialize in.
Perhaps even more importantly, Mattocks has shown a willingness to get back and help out on defense more regularly than some of the Timbers other options on the wing, and against the likes of Joao Plata and Juan Manuel Martinez — “Burrito” — the Timbers’ back line will need all the help that they can get.
Facing off against RSL’s wide attack, the Timbers should feel good about Powell’s chances as one of the team’s better one on one and emergency defenders. On the far wing, however, Vytas has yet to prove himself against the league’s more technical attacking players and his match up against Burrito will certainly prove to be a test for the Timbers’ left back.
While the match ups on the wings are somewhat concerning for the Timbers, at the top of the formation, Fanendo Adi should be primed for a good match as RSL are missing both of their first choice center backs: Jamison Olave to suspension and Aaron Maund to a broken toe. In their place will likely be Justin Glad, who is returning from a brief injury layoff and has been a starter for RSL at times this season, and Chris Wingert, pulled in from the wing. Neither player seems likely to compete with Adi on strength, so it will be up to the Timbers to make good use of the big man and his hold up play.
Below Adi, the Timbers will be hoping to get Diego Valeri involved in the match early and often after he was largely isolated against Dallas last week. The return of Nagbe should prove to be impactful here as he will open up space in a way that few other players in the league can.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. PT at Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 9-11-8, 6th place in the Western Conference
Real Salt Lake: 12-8-8, 2nd place in the Western Conference