If RSL is going to force their way into the post season this year there simply is no room for a loss at home with just 3 home matches left RSL will host the Portland Timbers on Saturday and a win is a must. The only other team in the West that has played 29 matches like RSL are the Timbers who sit 9 points above RSL in the conference. The gap may not seem like much all 3 of RSL’s remaining home matches are against teams above the red line, so while we may be able to steal some points at LA or Colorado (our remaining road matches) winning at home is a must. Back to back home wins over San Jose and Colorado put RSL back in a somewhat realistic chance to make the playoffs but with just 6 wins at home this year beating 3 teams above the red line will be what it takes to get RSL above that line.
The Timbers are 3-1-1 in the last 5 matches and 5-2-3 in their last 10, they are 4-7-4 on the road this year making them one of the top road teams in the West. As in recent years the Timbers are all about Diego Valeri, who if they make the playoffs has to be a contender for MVP, his 17 goals and 9 assists have him in the top 10 in each category. A huge question mark for the match will be if Fanendo Adi plays or how much he plays, he has had a recent hamstring injury and is listed as questionable.
For RSL getting back either or both Demar Phillips or Marcelo Silva could really help our back line, but I doubt either will make the starting lineup. We will likely see the return of Danilo Acosta who was out due to a red card last week. Up top the question will be can Luis Silva go, or will it be Yura Movsisyan again this week? Two different players, both of whom RSL will need down the stretch, before getting hurt Luis had found a scoring touch which helped propel RSL to a run that had the team seeing just a single loss since July 4th. Without him last week the RSL offense looked subpar, but was that due to the combination of playing on turf and facing red hot Vancouver team? We will likely never know.
I thought the RSL season was over before the first of July but in a rough and tumble Western Conference nobody has stepped up much in the last 2 months to take command of the conference. I still don’t think we make the playoffs with 14 defeats there are just too many points lost, but this is MLS and a solid run over our last 5 could see it happen should the free fall of FC Dallas and the recent struggles of Houston & San Jose continue. Things are out of RSL’s hands to be honest but should they find a way to get at least 12 points out of their final 5 matches they would end with 47 and most years that would leave them on the outside looking in, but this year it might just be enough. RSL made it in last year with just 46 points but you have go go back to 2012 to find another team making it in with less than 50.
The biggest thing in RSL’s way other than themselves is the fact that everyone except PDX has played fewer matches than we have, 4 of the 6 teams above the red line have 2 matches in hand on us, which makes catching them all the more difficult. Still at this point RSL can only do one thing about it, that is win.
The Timbers are the top scoring team in the West with 49 goals scored, compared to 42 for RSL, however the Timbers also have given up 45 goals (top among teams above the red line in the West), while RSL have given up 51. Both sides are tough to beat when they score first, RSL is 8-2-1 and PDX is 11-2-5 when scoring first, what worries me is that Portland have scored 15 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches while RSL have just 5. That gap closes a bit when you consider RSL have given up 20 goals in the first 30, while PDX have given up 12. RSL ends matches much better with 24 goals scored in the final 30 minutes of matches, while the Timbers have just 15 scored while giving up 16 in that same time period.
So instead of Key Players for each team I am going to do my most frustrating player for each team. For RSL it has to be Yura Movsisyan this year, a good start to the season but then a scoring drought which went along with RSL’s early season struggles. Toss in a good old fashion coaching change and things went from bad to ugly, benched for an extended period of matches, lots of trade/loan rumors, a disenfranchised player became an easy target for fan frustrations as the team struggled. I said it before and will say it again, RSL will score more goals with Yura than without him over the course of a season but they very likely will create fewer chances with him. For me the struggle is that Yura is a target guy, always has been, so he needs service and with that being hard to come by for most of the season his performance has suffered and frustrations increased. A return of Demar Phillips or a few more quality crosses from our outside backs could help him a ton but will he get the chance to go get out of the doghouse? Only the next 5 matches will tell.
For the Portland Timbers and probably every USMNT fan, the consistent inconsistency of Darlington Nagbe has to one of the most frustrating things ever. The 2nd overall pick in 2011 and he immediately showed flashes of being the next big thing in MLS, and in 2013 I thought he had arrived. A solid 9 goal 4 assist season that year and there should have been no looking back for the young man with speed and touch, but since 2013 he has found the back of the net just 10 times. His assist numbers are better with 21 in the last 4 seasons but for a guy who was supposed to be a “it factor” kinda player it just seems a bit flat. Like everyone I got excited when he got his US Citizenship and was called up to the USMNT, maybe this was the break that would push him to that next levle, something almost everyone believes he is capable of. Alas it did not and more often than not this year when he has been on the pitch for either club or country you most often are left wondering where he is, as his play hasn’t forced you to pay much attention to him. At 27 there is still time for a break thru year and for him to deliver on expectations of greatness but each match that window shuts just a little bit more. I for one sure hopes something pushes him to that next level cause I expect it would be fun as could be to see.
So what should you expect on Saturday night? The only sure thing will be a chill in the air as fall weather is upon the valley, neither side can afford any type of slip-ups this late in the season. Portland don’t need a win, a draw would probably be find with them, so expect them to play back a bit and force RSL to break them down. They will counter when given the chance with either Adi or Mattocks up top they could be dangerous as RSL’s backline was exposed pretty badly last week in Vancouver. For RSL it has to be pedal to the floor from start to finish, this is it your season could be riding on the next 90 minutes and everyone knows it. RSL found a way on turf to expose the Timbers in July, now at home they will need to find a way to do it again. If they can get an early goal and force the Timbers to chase them this could be another high action match for RSL. The home side should pickup a 3-1 win in this one.
Oh and I am picking GGG in a 9th round TKO over Canelo tonight as well.
That’s How I See It!!