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Storylines: Portland Timbers vs Real Salt Lake

Timbers look to rebound after Cascadia Cup loss

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

In the gaming community, we’d refer to Friday’s loss as “losing full.”

There’s no way around it really: I don’t know if it’s fatigue or what, but the Timbers were less than feisty on Friday — and the night ended in dropping important points at home. All they needed to do was not lose to Seattle, and the Cascadia Cup would have been the Timbers’ ... but now the Timbers need to put that in the rear-view mirror and focus on their next opponent, Real Salt Lake.

The Cobalt Blue took on Colorado on Saturday and slid past them 2-0. Don’t let the scoreline fool you, though: The goals (one a PK) came in the 96th and 99th minutes. Before RSL could score, the Rapids were down to 10 men in the 89th minute, when Kei Kamara was sent off for a challenge on Real Salt Lake’s Brooks Lennon. Joao Plata would not only create a PK, but would take it himself and open up the one goal lead deep in stoppage time. In the 99th minute, Jefferson Saverino would put it to bed with a goal of his own.

Can the Portland Timbers dig themselves out of a funk and secure three very important points at home? Or will another team — this time Real Salt Lake — rain on Portland’s home parade?

What to Watch for

Real Salt Lake (13-10-4, 43 pts)

Real Salt Lake vs Colorado Rapids

Real Salt Lake currently sit second in the Western Conference, which is the only place any team can occupy with LAFC about to win the Supporters Shield. RSL has gone through some changes since we last saw them: Mike Petke is no longer at the helm of the Cobalt Blue. That distinction now lies with Freddy Juarez, who was an assistant under Petke. Juarez is in place until the end of the 2019 season.

The last time Real Salt Lake won in Portland was back in 2017, so they do have history going against them. Their current road record is 3-7-3, and they’ll be looking at possible back-to-back road wins — their first in 2019 if they can get past the Timbers. In their last six matches, RSL has only lost one. So they’ll definitely have the hot hand coming into Providence Park on Saturday night.

Look for RSL to be extremely aggressive on both sides of the ball. One thing to look out for is shots from distance. They have no problem setting up shots outside the box, and that’ll keep Steve Clark on his toes. At times, look for them to bypass the midfield entirely with long balls over the top in an effort to catch the center backs off guard.

Also watch for them to attack down the left side of the pitch and having no problem holding on to the ball in their own end. If RSL get the lead, they’ll protect it, possibly using a low block to frustrate the Timbers. Nothing should be looked over in this match: RSL are dangerous and want to hand the Timbers another home loss to improve their lead over Seattle Sounders, winning the second place spot.

Players to look out for include Albert Rusnak, who is currently tied for the team lead in goals with nine and has five helpers as well. Rusnak has been a key player in the lineup since the 2017 season. Look for RSL mainstay Nick Rimando in goal, one of the league's best goalkeepers. He always comes up big for RLS when it counts — and against the Timbers. Jefferson Savarino is another player to keep a close eye on Saturday night. He’s second for goals on the team with seven and has also collected five assists. That’s already matching his total from last season, where he had seven goals and 11 assists.

Portland Timbers (11-11-4, 37 pts)

Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders

Once again, the Timbers find themselves back underneath the playoff line. With FC Dallas’ win over the Houston Dynamo, they now sit in that seventh and final playoff spot as we hit the home stretch. The Timbers are going to need to figure themselves out — and quickly. I really don’t want to say this is a must-win match, but let’s face it: It is. As it’s been stated before, the Timbers need to win these home matches and not drop points. From here on out, every point is important. If the Timbers don’t right the ship, they could be on the outside looking in come playoff time.

The Timbers simply cannot repeat their performance from last weekend against the Sounders. It was unacceptable: Two relatively easy goals to the Sounders, and they walk out with all three points and the Cascadia Cup. Rotations have been working for the most part, but I think with the fixture congestion things got chalked early on. There have been three iron men in this last stretch of games: Steve Clark, Sebastian Blanco, and Diego Chara. They have put in A LOT of minutes as of late.

While I’d like to see Blanco get a breather at some point, right now the Timbers really can’t afford to keep him off the pitch. At least there was no mid-week match, and the team has had a bit of time to rest, relax, and refocus on the match at hand. Brian Fernandez is sitting on 180 minutes since his last goal, a brace against Chicago. I’m still not sure if clubs are figuring him out or just that he’s been unlucky. The longest he’s gone without scoring is three matches, and Saturday would be a good night for him to find his shooting boots.

The Timbers depth at center back is going to be tested. Both Julio Cascante and Larrys Mabiala will be unavailable for Saturday’s match up. According to Jamie Goldberg, Mabiala is getting closer to a return, but there doesn’t seem to be a timetable for Cascante’s return. This leaves the team with two natural center backs: Bill Tuiloma and Claude Dielna. Zarek Valentin can play center back if really needed, but I only see him getting any time at CB if it’s an emergency because Modou Jadama is still recovering from injury himself.

I’d expect basically the same lineup used against Seattle for RSL. Though I could see Ebobisse getting the start over Loria; it would give the Timbers a different look, and Ebobisse’s hold up play is much better than Loria’s. On the defensive side of the ball, I’d look for Jorge Moreira to return to the starting lineup in place of Zarek Valentin. And of course, the Tuiloma/Dielna paring in the center back positions.

Log Slices

Even though he hasn’t scored in 180 minutes, Brian Fernandez still leads the team with a .80 goals per 90 minutes.

Diego Valeri has moved into rarefied air for his production over his Major League Soccer career, among the greatest talents in the league’s history. Valeri scored the 75th goal of his MLS career in the Portland Timbers’ 2-1 loss to Seattle Sounders FC at Providence Park last Friday evening. Combined with his 80 career assists (which are tied for 12th-most of any player in MLS history), Valeri has become just the sixth player in Major League Soccer history to record 75 goals and 75 assists for his league career.

The teams are meeting for the second time this season. Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri scored on either side of halftime to lead the Timbers to a 2-1 win on May 4 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The Timbers have won each of the past three meetings, including both match-ups a year ago, the two contests coming over a three-week span at the end of the season. The Timbers cruised to a 4-1 win on Oct. 6 at Rio Tinto Stadium, then took a 3-0 win on Oct. 21 at Providence Park.

Diego Valeri scored his fifth goal directly from a free kick in his MLS league career, his last coming May 5, 2018. He also has one in the MLS Cup Playoffs (also in 2018).