The Portland Timbers are in scenic Sandy, Utah where tonight they will take on Real Salt Lake in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs. With Diego Valeri returned from injury, their winless streak broken just in time to stay above the red line, and an opponent that they beat twice during the regular season, the Timbers are in as good a spot as any of the road teams for today’s playoff match.
Of course, heading on the road is always a dicey prospect in Major League Soccer and the Timbers will do so without the services of striker Brian Fernandez who remains suspended after voluntarily entering the league’s substance abuse program. Fernandez’s absence means that once again the Timbers will look to Jeremy Ebobisse to spearhead their attack, providing a platform off of which Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri can work their magic.
If the Timbers are able to put out a strong defensive showing and get out on the break against this RSL side that have struggled to contain them for the last two years, things should shape up for Giovanni Savarese and company. Of course, that is all predicated on shutting down the like of Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino, and Corey Baird, all of whom have deep bags of tricks to pull from.
So far every 2019 playoff match has been a tightly fought contest that the home side has narrowly managed to win. Despite that, the result have indeed been close, with FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders even going to extra time.
Today’s match is exactly the sort for which the Timbers can step their collective game up. After climbing back out of the hole that they had dug late in the season, there is a real opportunity here for the Timbers to make a run into the playoffs, all they have to do is take it.
Playoff Storylines: “PTFC has to feel pretty good about drawing RSL: in four matches with Giovanni Savarese in charge, the Timbers have taken 12 points from the Utah side. Back in 2013, it seemed like RSL had the Timbers’ number, and it showed in the playoffs that season. Now the roles look like they’ve swapped.”
Playoff Logs: “The new playoff format makes things very straightforward for the Timbers: Win and move on. Survive and advance. Portland stands just four victories away from lifting a trophy, and the simplicity of the competition means that all the team and coaching staff need to do is focus on is the game in front of them. No more balancing the home and away legs — just win the next 90 (or 120) minutes.”
Watch it on: ESPN News, ESPN Deportes
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah
When: Saturday, October 19th at 7:00 p.m. PT
Portland Timbers: Finished 6th in the Western Conference, 14-13-7
Real Salt Lake: Finished 3rd in the Western Conference, 16-13-7