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Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake: Preseason Preview Interview

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers have returned home and on Thursday night they will open Providence Park for the 2017 preseason as they face off against Real Salt Lake in the first match of the 2017 Rose City Invitational.

Despite coming off a run of three games in Tucson, AZ, the Timbers are still early in their preseason and working their way toward match fitness. But, expect the team to take another step forward and potentially get some players up to sixty minutes of playing time as they face off against Real.

Of course, we mostly know what to expect from the Timbers at this point, but what should we be looking for from the visiting side? To get the low-down on Real, we got in touch with RSL Soapbox’s Andy Graff and he answered a few of our questions.

After years of standing atop the Western Conference, RSL took a tumble in 2015, ending the year in 9th place, and then managed to claw their way back into the playoffs last year with a 6th place finish. What was the cause of RSL's drop off in fortunes and have Cassar and company been able to fix it coming into 2017?

There has been a lot of wailing at owner Dell Loy Hansen and Coach Jeff Cassar over the past couple of years.

With a fanbase used to being consistently strong year after year, it’s been difficult for supports to stomach our dip in form. Our old guard of veterans are starting to age and the league is changing. Real Salt Lake is in a period of adaptation; it's a new style.

We’re having ups and downs, but I think just about everyone is excited coming into this season. GM Craig Waibel has made some incredible roster moves. The roster looks deeper this year than I can remember. We’re investing in youth. Cassar is going to have his chance to prove he can do what needs to be done.

We’re expecting it to be done right this year.

Javier Morales was RSL's beating heart for ten years before suddenly announcing his departure this offseason in a move that smacked of conflict with the front office. Was Morales' move as big a surprise for fans of RSL as it was for those of us on the outside? And how will RSL deal with his absence?

I’m sobbing onto my keyboard. Javi was our maestro. Many of us watched his wizardry and wondered if age could ever nab him. It might be heresy to say, but I think father time finally has his hooks in.

Do I like the way the front office handled his situation? Not at all.

In my magical world of perfection, they would have negotiated for Javi to stay no matter what and transitioned him into coaching. We adore him here. But he wants to keep playing and RSL has a different vision for the future that looks to not have included him. It’s a business, despite our fondness.

The entire saga was a shock, is still a shock.

They’ve brought in Albert Rusnák, though. He’s young. He’s talented. We’re excited even as our tears still flow.

Timbers fans are all too familiar with the likes of Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, but who are some new arrivals on the RSL roster that they should look out for?

Albert Rusnák is that top player. He has some serious potential and he’s the one I’m most excited about. He’s a Slovak attacking midfielder who comes to RSL from FC Groningen of the Netherlands’ Eredivisie. He started at age 14 in Manchester City FC’s youth academy. He and Yura Movsisyan look to be clicking really well so far in the tiny amount we’ve seen of them both in preseason.

A lot of responsibility is being put on Jordan Allen’s shoulders. He’s not being asked to supply a breakout year, but the kid is quality and should drop some major contributions. He’s really showing why he deserves the starting spot vacated by “Burrito” Martínez.

Homegrown RSL Academy player Sebastian Saucedo is back from a loan with Liga MX side Veracruz.

I’m excited for Luis Silva’s return to MLS and RSL. If he can stay healthy, he could be a major contributor and provide some serious competition for our presumed starters.

We also picked up NASL Goalkeeper of the Year Matt Van Oekel who will be competing with homegrown player Lalo Fernández for that backup spot behind Rimando.

The pieces are there this season.

We answered some of RSL Soapbox’s questions as well, drop by here to find them when they are posted.