The unknowns surrounding the two clubs are somewhere between slim and none.
A well-known, however, is how much success Real Salt Lake has had in its head-to-head matches against the Portland Timbers in just over three seasons together in Major League Soccer. The last time RSL lost to the Timbers — across all competitions — was April 30, 2011, a 1-0 loss in Portland. That happened to be the club’s first match after losing the CONCACAF Champions League final against Mexican club Monterrey at Rio Tinto Stadium.
It was also the first time the two clubs ever officially met in MLS play.
Since then, it’s been RSL, and it’s been Portland trying to figure RSL out. RSL (6-1-7) enters Saturday’s match at Rio Tinto on a 11-game unbeaten streak against the Timbers (3-4-7) since that April night in 2011.
Struggling out of the gates in 2014, Caleb Porter’s side looked to have discovered the way to balance itself out, but back-to-back wins over the New York Red Bulls and Chivas USA were soon negated by a wild 4-3 loss at home to rival Vancouver on Sunday.
The last match before MLS league action breaks for three weeks for this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil holds ramifications for Portland in needing more points and an undermanned RSL looking to distance itself from much of the Western Conference.
“This is a game we need to go in and get three points,” Porter told reporters in Portland this week.
And the Timbers coach said his club’s 1-0 loss at RSL on April 19 could help serve as a blueprint. Portland, despite the loss, created several dangerous opportunities, and if not for a phenomenal performance by goalkeeper Nick Rimando, could have had more than one shot slip into the back of the net.
“I felt last game was the best game overall against [RSL],” Porter said. “We had more shots, we had more possession, I thought we deserved to win, so I thought overall it was probably our best game against them.”
Does RSL think the streak could come to an end Saturday night? Not much has changed since 2013, said midfielder Ned Grabavoy.
“I think when you have familiarity with teams, you know what to expect and you know their dangerous players,” Grabavoy said. “There’s not much unknown in a matchup like this.”
Again minus stars Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio and Rimando and coming off a midweek 1-1 draw at Columbus, that sense of familiarity could be tested. Forward Joao Plata (left hamstring) could return to the game-day roster after missing the last two matches, while Robbie Findley (knee soreness) would bolster a struggling RSL offense. Ditto for Luis Gil’s return to the starting lineup Wednesday against the Crew. The 20-year-old made his first start since April 5 and snapped the club’s 274-minute scoreless streak.
Throw in spot starters who fared well at Columbus like Rich Balchan, Carlos Salcedo and John Stertzer, and coach Jeff Cassar could again use creativity against the Timbers.
“It’s going to be a battle,” said goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. “It’s going to be a big-time fight. You know they want to beat us, and we want to beat them.”
As for welcoming the Timbers back into Rio Tinto on Saturday night?
“I don’t think about them,” Gil said, “I’m focusing on us. We’ve been playing well this year, and we’ve still got a lot of improving. We’ve got to go in with a strong mentality. We’re going to go up against a good team and I feel like we’ve got the guys to do it.”
Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake
P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff • Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4; Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 6-1-7; Portland 3-4-7
Last meeting • RSL 1, Portland 0 (April 19)
About RSL • Unbeaten against Portland since April 2011, RSL hasn’t lost to the Timbers in 11 consecutive meetings across all competitions. … Forward Joao Plata (left hamstring) could return to the game-day roster against the Timbers after missing the club’s last two outings. … Midfielder John Stertzer made his first career start with RSL in a 1-1 draw at Columbus on Wednesday. … Center back Carlos Salcedo made his first start of the 2014 season as incumbent Nat Borchers was rested during the club’s stretch of three matches in eight days. … This marks the fifth match without Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Alvaro Saborio.
About Portland • Despite not winning its first match of the season until May 3, the Timbers have bounced back from a 0-3-5 start to sit at 16 points through 14 matches. … Portland recently traded defender Futty Danso to the Montreal Impact for a second-round 2015 MLS SuperDraft pick … Forward Fanendo Adi has been a help up top for Portland, scoring three goals and assisting on another in his first four matches with the club. … The Timbers have scored 23 goals, but have also conceded 23 goals. … Portland’s offense is clicking, scoring 10 goals in its last four outings. … Caleb Porter has had 12 career losses as head coach of the Timbers.