Last Saturday RSL lost their first match of the season a 4-0 thumping at Seattle, a second straight match where the team looked out of sorts as they tried to adjust to their many missing stars and what would be their first 3 matches in a week stretch of the season. On Wednesday they held on in Columbus to get a 1-1 draw despite a short bench and a starting XI that included many changes from the previous match. Now heading into their “World Cup Break” which means no MLS matches for a couple weeks but doesn’t account for what will hopefully be more than 1 US Open Cup match, the team will face a familiar foe as the Portland Timbers come to town Saturday evening.
The team will once again be shorthanded and given the extensive travel and two matches in the last week we will likely see another lineup with several changes and some signs of fatigue as the match wears on. Both RSL and Portland have 3 wins, 2 draws and a loss in their last 6 matches of the MLS season, so current form is fairly even between the sides. Of course given the way last year went one can expect that the Timbers will be green around the gills as they look for some revenge against RSL who knocked them out of the US Open Cup, the MLS Playoffs and whom the Timbers have only beaten once since joining MLS (RSL holds a 5-1-3 regular season record, a 2-0-0 playoff record, and a 1-0-0 record against Portland in US Open Cup action). Still one has to believe that the Timbers have looked at RSL’s roster (depleted via injuries and World Cup call ups) and busy schedule and think that this might be their best chance to steal a win at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The Timbers picked up Fanendo Adi on loan recently and the move paid off last weekend when in his first start he scored 2 goals in their 4-3 loss to Vancouver, at just 23 years old the Nigerian is an imposing figure in the area at 6’4″ and surprising has a good deal of pace to go with his size. When you combine him with Urruti, Fernandez and Valeri you end up with the potential for a very high scoring Timbers lineup. The question isn’t can the Timbers score, only RSL (24) and Seattle (29) have scored more goals than the 23 of Portland, the question is can they stop anyone from scoring, their 24 goals allowed is tied for 3rd worst in the league, only Houston (29) and Chivas (25) have allowed more. On the road the Timbers have a -1 goal differential, while RSL has a +5 differential at home.
Real Salt Lake looked better with a lineup that was missing most of what would be considered their top players at most positions on Wednesday, some fresh legs, and guys fighting to impress head coach Jeff Cassar, now can the team take that and build upon it with some guys returning to the lineup? For me two major things will be on my radar to watch, first do we get Joao Plata back? RSL is simply a different team with him in the lineup this year, when healthy he is playing like a MVP candidate and RSL finds a level of creativity that it just doesn’t have without him.
The second thing for me will be will RSL continue to play with two guys at D-mid? Listen you can’t just replace Kyle Beckerman, and RSL is finding that out, maybe for a match you can survive without him but with him being gone for an extended period it took both Cole Grossman and John Stertzer on Wednesday for RSL to actually look a bit like the team that often dominates possession in matches. That isn’t a hit on Cole Grossman but the chemistry and tactical awareness of Kyle Beckerman with the rest of the RSL roster isn’t something built over matches, it has been build over years and anyone who thought we could plug Cole or anyone else into that slot and replace the best D-mid in MLS overnight was just fooling themselves.
Now none of that means that whatever lineup RSL is able to piece together won’t be able to fight for a win on Saturday, the weak Timbers defense got weaker this week, as it looks like Donovan Ricketts picked up a bit of an injury (something RSL should test early and often) and they traded away Timbers original Mamadou “Futty” Danso to Montreal (that is just mean). RSL has gotten goals from all over the pitch in their previous matches against Portland, lead by Javier Morales with 3 goals and 3 assists against them, but names like Grossman, Borchers, Gil, and Grabavoy all have found the back of the net against the Timbers in the past. It won’t be easy as legs will be tired but knowing they have a bit of a break in front of them and another sell out crowd at Rio Tinto behind them, I expect we might find just enough to notch another win before the World Cup break. RSL wins this one 2-1(sorry Will). Oh and I hear their will be a special “blast from the past” TIFO in section 35 right after the national anthem tonight so you may want to have your cameras ready.
That’s How I See It