The Story So Far
Can we consider two wins a streak? I will. The Timbers were hungry for their second win and were able to obtain it playing our neighbors to the north, Toronto FC, beating them 2-1. Bill Tuiloma and Jeremy Ebobisse provided the fire power and the defense did their job, holding TFC to just one goal. Now they travel to the always-tough environment at Rio Tinto to face Real Salt Lake, who are sitting seventh in the West.
Real Salt Lake are coming off a 2-1 loss to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy in the City Of Angels. Now, they return home and look to right the wrong of last week. Can Mike Petke’s crew pick up three points in the friendly confines of the RIOT or will the Timbers continue their winning ways and run away with three points on the road.
What To Watch For
Real Salt Lake (3-5-1, 10pts)
Mike Petke’s crew find themselves currently seventh in the West and in the final playoff spot. While they’re not a great road team, they’ve had three matches in Utah and have gone 2-1-0 when it comes to home cooking. They’ve scored 11 goals this season but allowed 16.
So they’ll give up goals, and some of that is because they are without the services of goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who has a left knee problem. They’ve been bit by the injury bug, with a total of 6 players on the shelf (two of those listed as questionable).
Look for RSL to come out in their standard 4-2-3-1, with Damir Kreilach and Kyle Beckerman holding down the defensive midfield. There is no love lost between these two teams and I would think this could be a chippy affair, especially if RSL find themselves down early.
Right now, Albert Rusnak leads the team in goals scored with four in eight starts and he also has an assist. He’s been at the heart of this RSL offense since his arrival as a DP signing in 2017. Last year, he put up 10 goals and seven assists. This is one the Timbers will need to keep an eye on at all times.
Newly acquired Liberian forward Sam Johnson will be the lone striker up top in the 4-2-3-1. In four starts this season, he’s netted two goals. He came to Real Salt Lake via Norwegian side Valerenga, where he netted 11 goals in 21 matches. Another one to keep an eye on is homegrown player Corey Baird. While he hasn’t scored yet this season, he is a danger to do so. He has picked up just one assist so far this season.
I’d look for Real Salt Lake to come at the Timbers with the exact same lineup they fielded against the LA Galaxy.
Portland Timbers (2-5-1, 7pts)
The Timbers are looking to put on a genuine winning streak if they can nab three points against RSL. I don’t suspect that Gio Savarese will stray too far from what has been working, and that’s the old fashioned 4-4-2. Right now, it seems to be getting the job done, and why fix something that ain’t broken? The team seems to be clicking and it looks like Gio has settled on a back four of Jorge Moreira, Larrys Mabiala, Bill Tuiloma and Zarek Valentin. I think this back four is working well together and no reason to screw that up either.
Last week, I might have said some things about Diego Valeri, and honestly I’d like to take a some of it back. Over the last two games he has been heavily involved in the Timbers attack, and that while he only has one goal so far this season - I think more will come, sooner than later. Right now he’s tied for the league lead in assists with six helpers, one of those being a beautiful corner kick to the boot of Bill Tuiloma against TFC.
Jeremy Ebobisse has seemed to flourish over the past several matches, and I think the 4-4-2 might just suit him. His hold up play has been spot on, especially against Toronto where he was all but putting on a clinic on how to hold the ball up. He’s got four goals so far this season and being paired with Valeri has helped as well. Defenses seem to worry a lot about Diego Valeri, which frees up Ebo to do his thing.
I think this team is started to come around, they’ve all started to gel and with the fact that, like I said, Gio’s settled on a back four going forward, I feel more confident in the Timbers defensive unit. Moreira was great against TFC and seems to be finding his footing in Major League Soccer. While I’m sure there are still kinks to work out, the team as a whole is looking better and are starting to wake up from that 0-5-1 funk.
Who would have thought that (even though it’s early) the Timbers are only out of a playoff spot by three points. Real Salt Lake in that last spot currently has 10 points.
With an assist against Toronto FC, Sebastian Blanco has four assists in his last three matches, recording an assist in three straight matches for the first time in his MLS career.
Saturday’s match marks the 22nd meeting all-time in MLS regular-season play between Portland and Real Salt Lake (3-5-1, 10pts), with the series record even at 7-7-7. In the last 10 matches between the two clubs, the Timbers have posted a record of 5-2-3, and have earned at least a point in four of their last five trips (3-1-1) to Rio Tinto Stadium. Portland won both meetings during the 2018 season, including a 4-1 road win on Oct. 6, 2018, behind a brace from Blanco.
This will be the eighth match in the 12 match road swing as we all await the re-opening of Providence Park with the new expansion. Only four more matches on the road before the Timbers can take advantage of a very long home stretch.
Referee: Ramy Touchan, Assistant Referees: Corey Rockwell, Benjamin Hall-Volpenheina, 4th Official: Farhad Dadkho. VAR: Edvin Jurisevic