So for Real Salt Lake their match at Portland on Wednesday could be the most important match of the rest of the MLS regular season. With just 9 league matches remaining, 3 of them will be against the Timbers, so while we saw them in US Open Cup action this will be a chance to set the tone for a third of the remaining regular season. To be honest given the recent performances of RSL (2-2 draw at Colorado, 1-0 win over Houston, and 4-2 loss at LA) this could represent the best chance to get things back going in a positive direction, a chance to like they did earlier this summer to get on a good run of form (11 matches without a loss). That could really help them over the longer run, were the 9 remaining MLS league matches are spread over 10 weeks, a far cry from the 10 matches in 7 weeks (June and July) or 7 matches in 27 days which is the August Schedule.
There are no easy matches for RSL the rest of the way, every match is either against a Western Conference opponent and/or a team in the thick of the playoff hunt so every point will be vital if RSL want to keep ahold of the top spot in the West or the overall table. I am still holding out hope that RSL can find a way to pick up 9 points in their next 5 matches which include 3 at home in addition to the Wednesday match at Portland and a trip to Seattle. The 50 point tier is a huge one as it would be hard to miss the playoffs with 50 points and it would mark (if RSL can get there before LA) the first time a MLS team has had 4 straight seasons with at least 50 points. That is perhaps the best testament to the consistency that RSL has built since winning MLS Cup, but clearly the goal isn’t just that mark but to secure some actual silverware. MLS Cup and the playoffs are a crap shoot where an off night can sink you in a hurry, but with RSL still seriously in the hunt for the Supporter’s Shield and with the US Open Cup final coming in just over a month, both provide real chances to add a trophy to the collection.
The Timbers are a team that simply doesn’t lose often, just 3 losses in 23 matches and they have shown that they are a team unafraid of physical play but one that prefers to play a more attacking style (more direct than RSL) but at least better than the bunker and long ball of some teams around the league. It has been interesting to watch how quickly a new coach and a couple of new players have been able to change the very culture of the Timbers, who remind me a lot of the 2009 RSL squad that simply refused to give up, that went “balls to the wall” from whistle to whistle and fought for each other unlike any team I have seen before or since. It is hard in MLS or any league to face the same team several times a season, even harder to defeat an opponent several times in one season, but for both the Timbers and RSL they will be trying to do just that. The Timbers players and staff looked gutted after their loss in US Open Cup action just a couple of weeks ago, and now with two league matches against each other in the next two weeks the stakes are just as high as the Timbers look to secure as many points as possible in their attempt to claim their first shot at the MLS playoffs in what is a very tight Western Conference.