A break in the season is always a nice thing for both fans and players, but the schedule Real Salt lake faces in the next 6 weeks is brutal, with 9 MLS matches (6 at home), at least one US Open Cup match (vs Seattle) and a friendly with Inter Milan tossed in, that is 11 matches before the end of July.
With 13 matches played, RSL is sitting in a solid 3 place in the Western Conference with matches in hand against everyone except LA and Seattle. Their 23 points is actually gives them the second best points per match average in the league with 1.77 despite playing 9 of 13 on the road. The Timbers come in after the break needing to improve their form, after 15 matches they are on just 19 points with a 5-6-4 record and without a single win on the road. The defending MLS champs know it is about how you play at the end of the season, but with a very competitive Western conference you don’t want to dig too deep of a hole to climb out of.
These two teams faced off early in the MLS season at Portland in one of those matches where RSL started great and had a two goal lead but with being a man down after a 31st minute red card to Kyle Beckerman, the Timbers got back a goal in the 79th minute and then RSL went down to 9 men as Jamison Olave picked up a red card in the 83rd minute on a foul that gave Portland a PK as well and lead to them leveling the match. One could say RSL was lucky to get out of there with a draw but I considered it one of the matches were RSL left points on the pitch after a late meltdown. Now the two familiar foes will face off once again on Saturday night, in what should be an exciting match.
The last time the Timbers played at Rio Tinto it was a late heartbreaking goal by former RSL legend Nat Borchers that gave the visitors the win. This time around the wood cutters will be bringing two former RSL players likely to see action, as both Nat Borchers and Ned Grabavoy have featured in at least half their matches this year.
This is a match that should fit well into RSL’s wheelhouse, fight for points on the road and dominate at home. RSL is 4-0-0 at home so far this season, with 6 goals scored and just 2 goals allowed in those 4 matches, and that compares very favorably against the Timbers who are 0-4-3 on the road with 7 goals scored and 13 allowed. As we all know there are no easy matches in MLS and that doubles when you are talking about in conference rivals, for the first 3 seasons of the Timbers being in MLS RSL dominated them but RSL’s last win over the Timbers was a 1-0 win over two years ago and the Timbers have won their last 3 matches at Rio Tinto, so expect a dogfight.
There may be a bit of fatigue coming off the late night on Tuesday in US Open Cup action for RSL, but I would expect a strong and fit lineup against Portland:
Beltran – Maund – Glad – Wingert
Allen – Morales – Mulholland
Martinez – Movsisyan – Plata
If Sunny is fit I could see him getting the start in place of either Allen or Mulholland. I do hope after the poor performance on Tuesday that it is awhile before we see a Mulholland/Stertzer combo in the midfield, they simply didn’t look good together against Wilmingham.
One of the main weapons for the Timbers will be missing due to USMNT duties as Darlington Nagbe along with RSL’s Kyle Beckerman both are in Houston preparing for their next Copa match. This impacts both teams but isn’t a surprise to either coach, so the impact will be there but minimized. The Timbers are also dealing with a couple of injuries as Darren Mattocks, who played a few minutes in their US Open Cup match. Also working their way back to full fitness are Fanendo Adi and Alvas Powell, who both were in the 18 on Tuesday for Portland but neither saw action. I have to hope that none of those three see action on Saturday but that would be wishful hoping at best, I expect if they don’t start they will at least be available to come off the bench.
RSL will have to deal with Diego Valeri, who with 5 goals and 4 assists is the player that makes the Timbers tick and without Kyle Beckerman this will be a big task that will likely require the attention of more than just a single player. You also can’t sleep on Jack McInerney who in just 154 MLS matches had found the back of the net 42 times, but never scored against RSL.
After their US Open Cup wakeup call, I expect RSL to come out with a ton of early pressure and look to send a message to the Timber, the fans and themselves that this is a RSL team that must be dealt with. I am going to pick a 3-1 RSL win as the Cobalt and Claret look to continue turning Rio Tinto back into a fortress.
That’s How I See It