RSL: Showdown in Portland is as big as it gets
Sandy • There is no need for a poker face.
Saturday's match at JELD-WEN Field in Portland, Ore., a matchup between the top two teams in the Western Conference, features both teams vying for playoff seeds, a shot at the conference title and perhaps an inside track toward the Supporters' Shield.
A Real Salt Lake win over the Portland Timbers gives RSL its six consecutive playoff berth, but it also would put the franchise in prime position for a conference crown and a shot at the Shield, something RSL never has been this close to accomplishing this late in the season.
"This is a huge game for us," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "I think we've spent a lot of this season saying that, 'This is the biggest match,' in a lot of games, but this game is really a match that could determine a lot of things for us.
"Going into it, we've had great games with Portland, and I don't see why this is not going to be another one."
The Timbers, No. 1 in the West with 53 points, own a sliver of an edge over No. 2 RSL, which sits with 52. After that it's gridlock.
The L.A. Galaxy and Seattle Sounders are tied for third place with 51 points, while the fifth-place Colorado Rapids have 48. A draw in Saturday's match would give RSL a tie-breaker scenario with sixth-place San Jose for the final playoff spot based on goals scored. RSL holds a sizable lead over the Earthquakes.
The playoff possibilities are ambiguous for the next week.
"There's a ton on the line, for sure," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "We know that if we can somehow manage a win [in Portland], that will put us in a pretty good place. Huge game, but I'm pretty sure that I'll be saying next week that the next one is just as big."
Both RSL and Portland play Chivas USA as their final regular-season opponent of 2013, thus making Saturday's match in Portland that much more important in the convoluted race for seeds, titles and the Shield.
"It might be in the back of your mind a tad bit," captain Kyle Beckerman said, "but we're still in a really good position and we're in a lot better position than a lot of teams."
RSL will be without midfielder Javier Morales, who will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation. Kreis said despite missing Morales who has eight goals and 10 assists in league play the coaching staff is comfortable about every player available for selection.
"We don't hesitate too much," he said. "We plug and play."
RSL is 2-0-1 in three games against the Timbers this year; the two teams have scored a combined 15 goals in those three matches. Will Saturday's match, arguably the most crucial of the season for both sides, be another wide-open, back-and-forth affair?
"I think on that field up there, you can get some weird games a little bit," midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. "I think both of our teams seem to play pretty well on that field and maybe other teams don't. Both teams seem to create chances."
Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers
O At JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore.
Kickoff • Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • CW30
Radio • 700 AM, 102.3 FM
About RSL • Sits in second place in the Western Conference. ... RSL has two regular-season matches left to clinch a playoff berth. ... Regardless of result at Portland, RSL would clinch a spot in the postseason with a Colorado Rapids loss/draw against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday afternoon or a San Jose Earthquakes loss/draw at the LA Galaxy on Sunday. ... A playoff berth would make it six in a row for RSL, which would be tied for the second-longest streak in MLS history. ... Midfielder Javier Morales will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation. ... RSL is 2-0-1 against the Timbers this season, the last meeting in at JELD-WEN being a 3-3 draw.
About Portland • The Timbers' 1-0 victory over rival Seattle on Sunday gave them a one-point lead over RSL in the tight Western Conference standings. ... Portland midfielder Diego Valeri leads the MLS in assists with 12 this season. ... Former RSL midfielder Will Johnson will face his team for the first time since the U.S. Open Cup semifinal at Rio Tinto Stadium on Aug. 7, a match in which Johnson left due to a shoulder injury. ... Midfielder Darlington Nagbe leads the Timbers in goals scored with nine.