MLS Playoffs: Real Salt Lake-Portland Timbers Leg 1 Match Preview, Prediction

By Matthew Evans
Jason Kreis Caleb Porter
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Records (Wins-Draws-Losses, Goals Scored:Goals Allowed)

Real Salt Lake at home: 14-4-4, 44:22

Portland Timbers on the road: 5-10-5, 31:27

All-Time Series: Real Salt Lake five wins, Portland Timbers one win, three draws

No players are suspended for this match due to yellow card accumulation. There are seven players who will be suspended with their next booking. For Portland, those players are Rodney Wallace, Ben Zemanski, Pa Modou Kah and Diego Chara. For Real Salt Lake, those players are Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio and Khari Stephenson.

The Portland Timbers are appearing in their first ever Western Conference Final on a bit of a high after just dumping the rival Seattle Sounders FC from the postseason. Portland has had just a magical season under first-year manager Caleb Porter. Portland enter this first leg on a ten match unbeaten streak and have only lost two in their last 16 matches across all competitions.

Normally, being on that kind of run would give your team a lot of confidence going into the next match, but for Portland, that may not be the case. Portland’s last two losses have come to Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium. Portland has not beaten Real Salt Lake since April 30, 2011 and has never won at Rio Tinto. In five matches at the ground all time, Portland has managed one draw and four losses.

For Portland to be successful in this first leg, they are going to need to pressure Real Salt Lake from the opening whistle. It was only Thursday that Real Salt Lake played 120 minutes at home in that thrilling win over Los Angeles Galaxy, the starters for RSL should be fine to start, but as the game moves on their legs will start to get heavy. Another way for Portland to wear out the RSL gas tank will be to possess the ball for long periods of time in the first half. Teams fatigue faster when they are chasing after the ball, this could be a good tactic for Porter to use.

Real Salt Lake knows that they will need to win this first leg if they are to have any chance to make another MLS Cup appearance. Portland has only lost once at home this season and that was back in March to the Montreal Impact and Real Salt Lake has only won one true road playoff game under Jason Kreis. On the plus side RSL have never lost at home to the Timbers outscoring them 12 t0 five in the process, but in those games RSL were not three days removed from playing 120 minutes against the Galaxy.

Kreis will need to preach attack early and often in this match and will also need one or more of his forwards to step up. Alvaro Saborio could not finish the match on Thursday due to a muscle pull and his status is questionable which will make it more important for Robbie Findley, Joao Plata and Javier Morales to play better.

The most important part of this match for RSL, though, will be their defensive triangle between Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler and Kyle Beckerman. In the Seattle series, Portland’s six attacking players just carved up the Sounders defense like it was a turkey on Thanksgiving. RSL’s diamond midfield has had success already against Portland’s attack this season but the Timbers are hitting on all cylinders right now having scored 20 goals in the last 10 matches. Portland also is balanced in their scoring so RSL cannot just key on Ryan Johnson or Darlington Nagbe, they will need to account for whomever is in the attack.

Real Salt Lake hosts the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Final First Leg on Sunday Nov. 10. The match kicks off at 9:00 p.m. EST and can be seen nationally on ESPN.

Leg 1 Prediction: Portland Timbers 2, Real Salt Lake 1

Portland is hot right now and Real Salt Lake is tired. The planets are aligned for Portland to get the Rio Tinto monkey off their back and take another step towards the promised land.

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