MLS Playoff Preview: Timbers vs. RSL

KyleBeckermanDiegoCharaRSLPortlandTimbers1 (PortlandTimbers)

BY MIKE DONOVAN AND TYLER GRAY

For the second time in three years, Real Salt Lake finds themselves in the Western Conference finals, just two games away from what would be an incredible appearance in the MLS Cup final, based on the preseason predications.

Standing in their way is Caleb Porter and his gritty yet highly clinical Portland Timbers. RSL won the season series, 1-0-2, and RSL did defeat Porter’s side in the U.S. Open Cup, but this series is up for grabs. The Timbers dispatched the Seattle Sounders with ease, 5-3, while RSL stood up to their critics with a pivotal 2-0 victory on Thursday evening at Rio Tinto Stadium, knocking the two-time defending champions Los Angeles Galaxy out of the playoffs.

The time is now for RSL to shed it’s status as underachievers, a label that wrapped itself tighter around the club following their stunning defeat at home in the U.S. Open Cup final to D.C. United. The stage is set. Two American coaches and their hard nosed team are set to battle. Which side has the edge heading into the Western Conference finals series?

Let’s take a closer look at what each team has to offer:

MATCH UP

SEASON SERIES

RSL won the regular season series, 1-0-2. RSL also defeated the Timbers in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

One of just five clubs to defeat the Timbers this season, Real Salt Lake was able to get two victories against Portland in 2013. The first was when RSL knocked the Oregon-club out of the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 victory in the Semifinals of the competition. The second came on Aug. 30 when host RSL handily defeated the Timbers, 4-2, in a match that saw the Timbers go down to 10 men before halftime after Ben Zemanski received a red card.

The two other matches both resulted in draws. The clubs combined for six goals in a Wednesday night shootout in August, while in the penultimate match of the season RSL and Portland played to a scoreless draw.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

TIMBERS: Diego Valeri (10 goals, 13 assists in regular season, 1 goal in playoffs), Will Johnson (9 goals, 5 assists in regular season, 1 goal, 1 assist in playoffs), Darlington Nagbe (9 goals, 4 assists in regular season, 1 goal in playoffs); RSL: Alvaro Saborio (12 goals, 2 assist in regular season, 0 goals, 0 assists in playoffs), Javier Morales (8 goals, 10 assists in regular season, 0 goals, 1 assist in playoffs), Chris Schuler (0 goals 0 assists in regular season, 1 goal, 0 assists in playoffs).

MATCHUP TO WATCH

This will be the fifth and sixth meeting between these two teams this season, with three times coming in the regular season and a fourth in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal match. Both sides are well-acquainted with each other and, quite frankly, probably sick of seeing each other’s faces.

The battle, however, will take place in the midfield as these are both teams that like to possess the ball and prod for an opening. The most interesting matchup to watch will be Timbers talisman, Diego Valeri, matched up against RSL’s grizzled captain, Kyle Beckerman. Valeri has been a revelation for a completely transformed Timbers side while Beckerman has kept the ship steady in Utah despite the sweeping changes that occurred in the offseason.

X-FACTORS

While numerous Timbers players have been talked about for postseason award lists, two names that don’t come up are the club’s starting fullbacks, Michael Harrington and Jack Jewsbury. The only US-born players to start for the club this postseason, the two have combined to give the club its most reliable players at the position since becoming a MLS franchise prior to the 2011 season.

Both Harrington and Jewsbury provide veteran leadership and stability at the back. While Harrington is more known for attacking up-field than his counterpart, Jewsbury had the assist on the Timbers first goal of this postseason and drew the penalty kick in the Timbers home playoff victory against Seattle.

If Jewsbury and Harrington continue to pick their moments correctly, the pair could play a major factor in whether or not Portland advances to the MLS Cup.

The X-factor for RSL has to be Sebastian Velasquez. The Colombian-born midfielder stepped up big in the 2-0 victory over the LA Galaxy on Thursday night. He was forced into action when RSL regular Ned Grabavoy was held out of the second leg with an injury.

Velasquez had a solid game, providing the opening goal off an unlikely header and making several key defensive plays as well to quell the Galaxy attack. He will most likely be called upon again this Sunday and he has to duplicate his steady play in order for RSL to start off on the right foot.

———-

OUTLOOK

By Mike Donovan

In a season of firsts for Portland as a MLS club, one hurdle remains if the Timbers are to head to their first Cup Final since the 1975 Soccer Bowl. And it is the same hurdle that Portland stumbled against in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals in August, Real Salt Lake.

The Timbers have matched up with RSL four times this season, coming away with two draws and two losses. In addition to the defeat in the U.S. Open Cup, RSL also handed the Timbers its only multiple-goal loss of the season, a 4-2 pasting at Rio Tinto Stadium on Aug. 30th. Despite this, the Timbers take some confidence into the match, in part to the club’s recent nil-nil draw in Portland’s regular season home finale.

“The last time we played Salt Lake, I thought we played very well against them. It was a 0-0 draw, it wasn’t a win, but I don’t think they had a shot on goal,” Porter said. “I think that was a real positive performance. Now we just need to get the attack cranked up versus them.”

Since getting shutout by RSL, the Timbers have scored 10 goals in three matches. And the club heads into Sunday’s match on its first three-game winning streak in the club’s MLS history.

“This is what you hope to have happen with your team – you’re in a run of form at the end of the year and it just starts to grow and build and the confidence grows,” Porter said. “These guys are in a great spot right now, so we’ve just got to keep going.”

There are many other story lines heading the match, not the least of which is Timbers captain Will Johnson taking on the club where he played the last five seasons before being traded to Portland in December of 2012.

“It will be fun for me, it will be special, obviously, after playing with those guys for a long period of time,” Johnson said. “I’m a part of the Timbers now, and obviously my job is to do anything I can to help the Timbers win. It’s all business from here.”

Johnson was injured during Portland’s U.S. Open Cup loss to RSL and did not play in Portland’s two-goal defeat to the Utah club. And the Timbers captain isn’t worried about the prior matchups between the two clubs, much anyway.

“For me, the record in the playoffs is even. We’ve never played them in the playoffs so I think it’s a totally different game,” Johnson said. “Whatever the regular-season statistics are, they are what they are, but this is the playoffs now so it’s a brand new slate.”

——–

By Tyler Gray

Will Johnson is facing off against his former team with a chance to vault his current one to the biggest stage in MLS. Two of the best young coaches in MLS will face off against each other yet again.

Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter will need to score his first victory against RSL to advance to the MLS Cup final, the Timbers are 0-2-2 this year against the claret-and-cobalt, but Jason Kreis has no intention of laying down.

RSL is looking to win their first piece of hardware since MLS Cup 2009 and the Timbers are looking to secure their first piece of hardware period.

The product on the field will be attractive and — if this season’s previous matches between these two teams are any indication — an intense one. Portland is coming off a dominating performance over their Cascadia rivals, the Seattle Sounders and RSL have just removed the 300 pound gorilla that had claimed squatter’s rights on their collective backs.

Both teams will be playing confidently and free and it should be a beautiful 120 minutes that will keep viewers glued to their seats.

Kreis had remarked before the Galaxy series that he might even prefer to play the first match of a playoff series at home. Now he will get his chance. RSL need to have a bright start at Rio Tinto in the first leg in order to pour some ice water on the Timber’s red-hot form.

Portland has scored 10 goals in its last 3 matches but will be going up against an RSL team that has allowed only two goals in its last 4 games, largely due to the insertion of a reinvigorated Chris Schuler in central defense.

 

 

This entry was posted in Featured, Major League Soccer, MLS Playoffs, MLS- Portland Timbers, MLS- Real Salt Lake. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to MLS Playoff Preview: Timbers vs. RSL

  1. downintexas says:

    So LA loses, Seattle loses and New York loses. I guess we can put those conspiracy theories to bed. But most won’t.

    • Joe Timbres says:

      Did you hear that Don Garber wants to put a team on the moon? Typical, his viewpoints have always seemed to be out of this universe.

  2. Withdrawn Striker says:

    Correction: The teams drew twice, and RSL won once, in the regular season this year.

  3. Stinnsy says:

    Does anyone else that when Beckerman jogs, he kind of prances?

    • Stinnsy says:

      +notice

      • Neruda says:

        Now that you mention it, yes he does prance. US fans rag on his slower dead sprint but fail to realize that he has quick feet and reacts fast. He had a shifty move with the ball at his feet against a couple of LA defenders that reminded everyone he’s no stiff.

    • Bean says:

      I always look for a rhythm in the CM’s. Steve Gerrard kind of prances, and skips when he’s playing for England.

  4. Neruda says:

    RSL has to play the overtime which could affect the starters but then again Portland is traveling to the wasatch front with hardly anytime to acclimate to the altitude so it’s a wash. It will be a tight match but RSL has to come away with a win or else it’s going to be tough in Portland.

    It will be an exciting 180 minutes (not including overtime) which is even better than 120 min.

  5. ATL Will Rule The World says:

    Dear world,

    This Timbers v RSL nonsense is irrelevant to the fact that ATLANTA will make both of yus look like midgets in the shadows of giants when the MIGHTY ATL stomps its footprint on MLS.

    Starting tomorrow with our rope a dope rumble n tha jungle upset SMACKDOWN of the Cosmos in the Soccer Bowl, you will begin to witness the supremacy of Atlanta footie over the rest of you amateurs.

    Enjoy your little playoff scenario, MLS fanboys. ATL is on the way, and WE WILL KICK UR ARSE. (Especially those Orlando idgets.)

    • Tony says:

      Please what is the game plan parking the bus and hoping for ref assistance. You are not in mls just yet keep your hopes realistic. Not beating the cosmos!

      • ATL Will Rule The World says:

        The Silverbacks won’t be in MLS, but Atlanta already is. It’s just a matter of when it will be announced. (Silverbacks either folding or sliding down a league or two.)

    • chodilicus says:

      Is that going to be like when ATL played RSL in the Open Cup this year? Love your confidence but MLS is a whole different level week to week than the NASL.

      • ATL Will Rule The World says:

        Yeah, when we took them to overtime at Rio Tinto, despite having a vastly smaller budget?

    • Eric W says:

      Ummm… wowzers. Ha.

    • Eric says:

      Love the enthusiasm!!! Timbers are gonna roll you!

  6. chodilicus says:

    Key to this game will be the health of RSL. Saborio got injured at the end of the LAG game, in an overtime that should not have been needed. Morales also came out of that game later after appearing to come up limping. Grabavoy did not even play due to injury. At full strength I think RSL has the advantage in this matchup. But Saborio and especially Morales are instrumental.

  7. ATL Will Rule The World says:

    …and we will STUN the Cosmos, along with the world, tomorrow at 7:30 sharp, muthaf*cka.

  8. Rob says:

    Look for record low ratings shares for the rest of the MLS Cup. Regardless of the level of play. I’m just sayin’.

    • ATL Will Rule The World says:

      Dudage, Timbers v SKC would be AWESOME final for anyone who is soccer literate. If they aren’t, then f*ck em.

      • ed from houston says:

        i like you man….but seriously, ATL is not going to rule the world …especially in soccer……. ATLANTIS -when dicovered- will rule the world, not Atlanta ….. as far as this matchup i am rooting for you RSLL

    • Quit whining about soccer in the US says:

      And we have the first whiner.

  9. mike says:

    no mention of injuries? poo.
    p.s. this is the final for me.

  10. El Paso tx says:

    Hopefully timbers run over rsl, rsl is a boring team to watch. They are over rated, it’s time for timbers to give rsl a life time spanking. MLS cup timbers vs dynamo n timbers win.

  11. root says:

    If your the type that thinks possession is boring and overrated then maybe RSL is boring for you to watch….why don’t you go watch some american football El Paso…

  12. ed from houston says:

    where is the play off Hou vs SKC? the game is in 7 hrs while the RSL POR game is tomorrow… sheesh, thanks for nothing

  13. PD says:

    This matchup has potential for being a peek into the future of MLS play all the time. Same goes for the final if SKC advances. Fans of the sport should all be tuning in and lending their support.

  14. Quit whining about soccer in the US says:

    Not sure why the author says SLC needs to shed a underachiever status.

    If under achieving is makig the tough Western Conf finals two out of the last three years…sign my team up….oh yeah, I remember four years ago they won MLS too, I was at the game and one more thing, don’t forget making the finals of CCL.

    Name a team that doesn’t sign up for that 5 years….maybe LA…maybe.

    • Quit whining about soccer in the US says:

      Very nice preview by the way.

      • Neruda says:

        Yes it has been good but fans always want a little bit more. Asking for a fifty percent record in championship games. Won MLS cup then lost ccl final and this years open cup final both at home.

        Timbers fans haven’t been around long enough to know real heartbreak. RSL fans do, sounders fans are experiencing it now too.

        • Adi from Oregon says:

          The Timbers have truly dedicated fans who know both the joy of victory and heartbreak. After losing the NASL Soccer Bowl in their inaugural 1975 year, 20K+ Portland fans suffered year after year of seasons with more and more losses. For the first 2 years in the MLS they were in the cellar. So, this year the soccer gods have blessed Portland with a lot of talent and a great coach. I hope and wish that the Timbers make it all the way to the MLS top spot!!

          • Neruda says:

            It’s impressive to be a top team third year in North Americas top league.

            • Nick says:

              North America’s top league? I’d argue that Liga MX is the top league in North America. Still though, I agree with your point that the Timbers have had an impressive season, particularly for it only being their third year in MLS.

        • Brian says:

          Haha. Many Timbers fans have been around a long or longer than RSL fans and most Sounders fans. This will be the 9th season for RSL? They haven’t been around long enough to know real heartbreak.

          • Neruda says:

            I should have said heartbreak since being in or the start of MLS. Old school timbers fans have seen it all since they’ve been a club.

            • RAMONE says:

              Yeah, that is the rub. Absolutely there are new fans since going MLS (and broadening even more with the success of this year), but there is a probably 30-50,000 strong group of people who have been continuous Timbers fans since at least 2001 and many of them going back to the 1970s.

              Most see MLS as just a new league but since ownership is the same as well as most of the team management from the USL days (and still lots of involvement of former players who have been around the better part of 30-40 years) we have a connection to the club that goes for decades if not most of a lifetime.

              • RAMONE says:

                Don’t want to overstate the 30-50k thing … absolutely with the restart of the club we were not getting big crowds at all (the Timbers were sort of a throw in additional stadium tenant when a group brought in minor league baseball and renovated the stadium). Unlike minor league baseball which shrank in attendance year after year, soccer grew and grew owing largely to its large popularity in the old NASL and the fact that so many in Portland play the game. Certainly don’t want to make it sound like PGE Park was packed to the gills with old NASL fans because it wasn’t (but PFE, the owners of the baseball team, made zero effort to market the Timbers and many people didn’t even know the team was back until the crowds started getting larger so the team got attention again).

          • RAMONE says:

            This is actually the 13th contiguous season.

            The Timbers also played 7 NASL (old NASL) seasons and then another 6 as F.C. Portland then Timbers in other various minor soccer leagues.

            Yes, it was gone for the entire decade of the 1990s, but if you are 40 something (like me) or above, you may remember 26 season’s of Timbers soccer.

        • RAMONE says:

          MLS heartbreak, maybe not.

          This Timbers fan has seen more Timbers seasons than MLS has had seasons however. Went to my first Timbers game in 1977.

          Sure, most of our clubs history if second tier soccer, but don’t forget for a second tier team it had a pretty good following (regularly did better than Chivas and New England as far as stadium draw toward the end of the USL days).