Well the regular MLS season is winding down and while RSL sits near the top of the Western Conference and overall MLS table, questions still remain for me. When will the real RSL show up and stay? For the 15th time in 28 matches RSL gave up the first goal to their opponent on Wednesday night, and for the 9th time they managed to grab at least a point after giving up that first goal. That number speaks to the fact this club never stops fighting, but it also speaks to the fact that we give up the first goal way too often. Is it tactics? Motivation? Mental lapses? Questionable defense? Or a combination of some or all of those? I am not sure but it sure drives me nuts (and I expect others as well), as does the 40 goals allowed, only two teams in the West have given up more goals this season, and thankfully we play one of them next.
The Portland Timbers, the defending MLS Cup champions, have seemed to be a team on a season long celebration hangover. They are clinging onto the final playoff spot in the West with a 9-11-8 record and 35 points from 28 matches. The Timbers have just 3 wins since the 4th of July and a 3-5-3 record during that time period. Those 3 wins all came at home and all in what would appear to be convincing manner, 3-1 over Seattle, 3-0 over SKC and 4-2 over Seattle again.
RSL visited Portland in third week of the season and it ended up being a contentious 2-2 draw that saw RSL get a 1-0 lead early, go down to 10 men in the 31st minute, go up 2-0, give up a goal, go down another man and then give up another goal to end up with a 2-2 draw. The sides faced off a second time in June at Rio Tinto and again RSL got off to an early 1-0 lead, then gave up 2 first half goals but managed to come from behind to secure another 2-2 draw vs the Timbers.
So the rubber match will take place in Portland on Saturday, it is huge for both teams as RSL look to keep pace at the top of the Western Conference playoff race while the Timbers look to keep the 3 team close behind them for the final playoff spot beneath them.
So inconsistency has been the name of the game for RSL this year, our longest winning streak of the year is 3, our longest streak of losses and draws is 2, but RSL is 3-1-1 in their last 5 matches and in most of those matches that inconsistency shows up from time to time. Overall RSL seems to be getting better in recent weeks, but we still need to find some offensive options off the bench. It is scary when down a goal in the final minutes and we are making moves like bringing John Stertzer in off the bench. Could this be the match we see Sunny make his return? Will we see Chris Schuler get more than a minute of action? With Aaron Maund out, Jamison Olave suspended, what will our partnership at CB be? Wingert, Glad, Kavita, Schuler?
Whatever the backline looks like the reality of what they face will remain the same, the power of Adi (13 goals, 2 assists overall, 3 goals against RSL) and the skill of Valeri (11 goals, 7 assists overall). Beyond those two, the offensive might of the Timbers is a bit of a question mark, with lots of potential but less than stellar delivery. Guys like McInerney, Nagbe, Melano and Mattocks each of them can change a match with a single touch of the ball, but it is the big two that you have to adjust your gameplan for and with injuries and suspensions it will be the toughest part for RSL to adjust to. If Sunny is available I think he would be a move worth trying to add some additional defensive bite in the midfield on that turf of Providence Park, thankfully the weather looks good for Saturday night, which can help limit the chaos of that pitch.
Up top RSL seems to be coming into their own, 42 goals scored, the ability to seemingly come back from any deficit, and some of the most sublime ball movement you will see in MLS. Strings being pulled by Javier Morales and Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez, and the finishing of Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan (both with 9 goals scored, Plata with 11 assists, Yura with 3 assists). That was on display in the second half vs a defensively sound LA Galaxy team when RSL took 12 shots with 7 on goal and 3 in the back of the net. The Timbers’ defense has given up 44 goals, only 3 teams (none in the West) have given up more goals than PDX, they have given up multiple goals in their last 4 matches and 15 times this season. Outside they depend on the work of Alvas Powell and Zarek Valentin, but their big move during the transfer window was Vytas Andriuskevicius the Lithuanian national team left back. So with Powell back from his own national team duty with Jamaica, the question is who will the Timbers partner at CB with Liam Ridgewell?
In most MLS matches you can point to the distinct advantage of scoring first, which usually results in a high proportion of wins, but RSL has as many wins when giving up the first goal as scoring it. Still the Timbers are just 1-9-2 in matches when they give up the first goal, oh and those two draws are both RSL matches. RSL tends to be a second half team, 30 of our 42 goals come in the second half, but a early goal sure would be a nice surprise. On the road picking a draw would be the easy choice, given how the last two with these teams have ended, but that would be easy. RSL is coming off an dramatic comeback on Wednesday night and while a midweek match would often make me worry I actually think it could be just the type of boost that RSL needs to pull out a win on the road. I am going with a 3-2 RSL win on one of those heart stopping late minute goals.
That’s How I See It