Real Salt Lake will head into Portland looking to continue the improvement they showed against Seattle in this critical stretch of 6 matches to begin the season. While there is still room to be better on both sides of the ball, the way RSL reacted after giving up the first goal last Saturday shows a fight that was often lacking in 2015, and the team should be able to build upon that. Without Javier Morales the side was still able to create chances, but Seattle was able to dictate much of the match be played at their pace and style, it sounds like Javi will rejoin the starting lineup for Saturday.
However, Jamison Olave has picked up a knock and hasn’t trained fully with the team this week, add in that the match is on the turf and it could a smart move to rest him this weekend. That could open the door to give Justen Glad his first start of the season, or to move Chris Wingert over to the middle of the backline and bring back Demar Phillips who is done serving his one match suspension. I expect the first option is probably the way things would go given how well Glad did in the preseason, especially the match against the Crew where he and Wingert did a great job in keeping Kei Kamara from being too dangerous.
So with Javi back pulling the strings it should allow Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez the chance to play a bit more forward than he did against Seattle where he withdrew a bit to support the offensive efforts of the midfield. We still haven’t seen a goal from Yura Movsisyan but he has looked increasingly dangerous in the last couple of matches as the partnership with Joao Plata and “Burrito” continues to develop. The matchup against Portland will be interesting as their backline is dealing with a few injuries and departed players and was exposed by San Jose as struggling to clear their area, so RSL will need to apply the high pressure they are capable of on the smaller pitch in Portland.
It is strange to think that RSL has lost to the Timbers more at Rio Tinto than they have in Portland (RSL is 1-1-4 in Portland and 4-3-5 at home), the Timbers swept both matches in Salt Lake last year by 1-0 scores and the sole match in Portland was a 0-0 draw. The last four times these teams have played in Portland have been draws, three 0-0 draws and the chaotic 3-3 match in August of 2013. With Portland coming off their MLS Cup winning season last year and RSL missing the playoffs one would likely expect to give the Timbers an edge but I think that would be a mistake, these two sides always battle tough with only 3 of their 14 meetings being settled by more than a single goal.
I do believe the emergence of Darlington Nagbe will be something that continues to push the Timbers forward but I think at times he simply disappears from matches still and that is something they can’t afford. Digeo Valarie is their Javier Morales, the guy who finds the spaces and makes the spectacular pass or shot and often is looked to for some set piece magic. Fernado Adi is a typical striker in MLS, when he is hot there is little anyone can do to stop him but getting and staying hot is the challenge.
For RSL the keys remain fairly close to the same as they have in the previous two matches:
- Limit mistakes – RSL finished the match strong against Seattle but there were mistakes and thankfully we didn’t get punished for them. Portland is the type of team that will punish those mistakes if you make them. It is still early in the season so it is about getting better each week and RSL has been doing that, this will be a big test as the Timbers will be looking to get back on the right side of things after their loss at San Jose last weekend.
- Finish Chances – I don’t believe that we have seen the full potential of the RSL attack yet, Yura, Plata and Burrito are still figuring out things and once they all get on the same sheet of music it is likely going to be a very beautiful thing for RSL fans to watch.
- Beware of Adi – He is a big physical striker at 6′ 4″ who knows how to finish, against RSL he has 3 goals, in just 4 matches. It has taken Darlington Nagbe 13 matches to reach that mark. This means Adi is a big target on set pieces as well as in the run of play. It will be a big test for the center backs to contain him and for everyone to keep him from getting quality service in dangerous places.
This is one of those matches that early in the year can see just about anything happen, but I expect both of these teams are still wanting to tighten the ship defensively in the past that would likely mean another 0-0 draw but there is too much offense on both rosters for that, so I am going to go with a 2-2 road draw for RSL.
That’s How I See It