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Post-slab pint: RSL 1-3 Timbers

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In their penultimate game of the season, the Timbers beat Real Salt Lake 3-1 in their own backyard to clinch the fourth seed in the Western Conference. What was good and what was bad about the performance?

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the post-slab pint where I break down the good and the bad (pint in hand) from the previous Portland Timbers game.

After a barnstorming three-goal first half, the Timbers were able to secure a 3-1 road win against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium, clinching the fourth seed in the West in the process and guaranteeing a home playoff game in Providence Park.

So, what did I like about the performance?

Sebastian Blanco, after playing just 12 minutes against the Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes, returned to the starting XI and put RSL to the sword in the first half. Blanco was back to his best and did what he always seems to do against RSL - score goals. Blanco scored the Timbers’ first goal of the night with a close-range header off a knockdown from a corner, before forcing Aaron Herrera into conceding an own goal for the second, and linking up with Jaroslaw Niezgoda to score the Timbers’ third goal in the opening 45 minutes. In his career against RSL, Blanco has scored seven goals and assisted another six. As the Timbers official account noted on Twitter, Seba is inevitable against the Claret and Cobalt.

After a somewhat shaky October, the Timbers rallied to secure a playoff spot and the fourth seed in the Western Conference. I won’t lie, after the team’s three consecutive losses against the LA Galaxy, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Colorado Rapids, I was pretty nervous about the Timbers’ ability to secure a playoff spot. So Portland going to Rio Tinto, a place that they routinely struggle, and handing a loss to an RSL team that is now sitting two points outside of a playoff spot with one game to go did my ol’ pessimistic heart a world of good. Mainly I’m just relieved that we can watch the regular season finale against Austin FC without having to worry about whether the team will be in the playoffs or not.

Now, what didn’t I like about the performance?

The Timbers’ defense, especially in the second half, looked worrying again. Surprise, surprise... Alex is talking about how bad the Timbers’ defense looked in 2021. But until something drastic changes tactically or personnel-wise, I will continue to be nervous whenever an opposing team moves in the direction of Steve Clark’s goal. The Timbers gave up 20 shots to RSL on the night, seven of which were shots on target and RSL’s xG (expected goals) for the game was 3.1 goals. Furthermore, the Timbers’ defense allowed RSL to complete 78.1 percent of their passes in the final third of the pitch, and 77.3 percent of their passes in their attacking half. These stats are not those of a team that wants to make a deep postseason run.

RSL’s lone goal came from another defensive mistake. As has been the case far too many times this season, the Timbers conceded a goal that stemmed from a mistake from one of their defenders. This time Claudio Bravo was the culprit, throwing his arm in the way of an unmarked Bobby Wood header from six yards out, which earned RSL a penalty that Albert Rusnak converted. In their last five matches, the Timbers have given away three penalties, all of which were conceded in the 80th minute or later, and two of which were game-winning goals.

The Timbers will be back in regular-season MLS action for the final time against Austin FC at Providence Park on Sunday, Nov. 7, with kickoff slated for 3:00 PM PST.