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Storylines: Portland Timbers vs Real Salt Lake

It’s the last home match of 2018, and the Timbers hope to close out with a win.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

Two weeks ago the Portland Timbers got something only one other team has been able to get this season — three points — at Rio Tinto Stadium, coming away with a decisive 4-1 win.

Real Salt Lake have a quick turnaround this week after beating the New England Revolution 4-1 on Thursday. They are currently in the last playoff spot in the West, only two points behind the Timbers and four points above seventh-place LA Galaxy, so they’ll be coming into Providence Park gunning for all three points to solidify their playoff hopes.

Can the Timbers get the final three points of the season at home? Or will an upstart Real Salt Lake club continue their playoff chase in handing the Timbers a defeat?

The Red and Cobalt

Mike Petke’s crew roll into town on minimal rest, so I’d expect to see some rotation on Sunday afternoon, though they will have the services of both Kyle Beckerman and Sunny, who sat out their suspensions against the Revolution. They’re currently working on a 2-2-2 record in their last six, a pretty even run of form.

Even with missing players and some rotation, RSL were able to dispatch the Revolution with relative ease. With Beckerman and Sunny returning, I’d suspect a near-first-choice XI for Real Salt Lake as they did some rotation on Thursday to get them to Sunday.

What To Watch For

(14-12-7, 49 points)

Real Salt Lake vs New England Revolution

It seems that at least for the moment, Petke is sticking to the 4-2-3-1. They deployed it against the Revolution, and seemed to work just fine without Kyle Beckerman and Sunny. Beckerman is key to running the engine room and he’ll be partnered with Damir Kreilach, who has a tendency to get a bit more forward than his midfield partner. Sunny, coming back from suspension, will most likely start the match on the bench.

Once again, both teams really need a win. Petke is pretty consistent with his starting XI, even when dealing with a short turnaround. As I mentioned last week, they like to play down the left, almost overloading that side at times. I suspect that Real Salt Lake will come out firing on all cylinders even if they’re a bit fatigued; I think they’ll fight through it with the playoffs on the line.

One thing the Timbers need to pay attention to is that RSL like to run an offside trap, looking to catch forwards offside and get the ball back. Again, I think we’ll see a lot of what we had in the last match against RSL.

Portland Timbers (14-9-9, 51 points)

Timbers vs RSL

Coming into Sunday’s match, the Timbers are going for their 11th win at home this season, and since it’s the last home game of the season, they want to go out on a high note. The Timbers hold their playoff destiny in their hands, like RSL. Portland really needs to come away with a win or (gasp) a draw to keep Real Salt Lake in that sixth position on the table, as there are only two points separating the two squads.

According to Jamie Goldberg at the Oregonian, Jeff Attinella is available for selection. Does this mean he gets the start ahead of Steve Clark? I’d guess he does, with so much on the line in the next two matches. Clark has done a fine job as the deputy; he was just supposed to be the backup and sit on the bench (weren’t we saying that about Attinella at one time?). I’d feel much better if Attinella gets the start, but I could also understand sitting him on the bench. He’s coming off a dislocated shoulder, and it could come out again.

Alvas Powell is still listed as questionable for Sunday’s match, nursing a head injury. Gio Savarese should do whatever it takes to get him healthy. We’ll need him come the playoffs. This means the best right back in MLS, Zarek Valentin, will most likely start, with Villafana playing on the left.

Tuiloma held his own deputizing for Liam Ridgewell, who sat out for a red card against FC Dallas. So, barring any surprises, Ridgy should be back in the heart of the defense, doing Ridgy things. This is just me, but I’d like to see a Ridgy Roll happen before the season is over.

Gio used the 4-2-3-1 against RSL last time; will he go back to it on Sunday? I think it will either be that, or the 4-3-2-1. I’d expect to see the more offensive formation at home, but I’ve given up guessing what formation Gio will deploy. I’d like to see the 4-2-3-1 again. It worked before — why not give it another go?

Log Slices

Honestly I can’t believe that we’re down to the final match at home for the season. It seems like just the other day the season kicked off with that long-ass road trip. Now the Timbers need to buckle down and grind out two wins, one at home and one on the road at Vancouver, which will also be the last game of the season and could determine where the Timbers are seeded.

The Timbers are 3-1-2 in their last six headed into Sunday afternoon, which is a pretty good run of form. At this point you can look at all the numbers you want, but it boils down to the next 180 minutes — that’s all that remains of the regular season in 2018.

Let that sink in: 180 minutes left.

With Ridgewell returning and a week to prepare, Gio will get to use his first-choice XI. This doesn’t, in my opinion, bode well for a tired and rotated RSL. I think if the Timbers can get the first goal of the game, they’re going to put it away and call it a night.

Whether the Timbers end the season as the five or six seed, they’ll have to go play their playoff match on the road, as only the first four spots get to play at home. I think this team finishes right where it’s at, although a sixth-place finish is possible.



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