Real Salt Lake: How will RSL defend the desperate Timbers?
Sandy • How will Real Salt Lake respond when the roar of 20,000 feverish Portland Timber supporters increases to deafening decibel levels?
Well, the goal is to keep them quiet, and for as long as possible.
Heading into the second leg of the Western Conference final series Sunday night at Jeld-Wen Field two weeks after RSL's offense put on a dazzling display in its 4-2 win over the Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium Portland has 90 minutes to square things up, or its dream season comes to a crashing end.
Which means one thing: Buckle up. Because the Timbers, one of the more dominant home sides in MLS this season, will be gunning for an early first goal to put RSL back on its heels. Portland has lost one match at home in 2013 a 2-1 loss to Montreal in the second regular-season game of the season and has a 14-1-5 record on the turf in downtown Portland.
"The mindset's got to be right for a game like this," said RSL defender Nat Borchers. "You can come into this game and think that two goals is going to be enough and just sit back, but that's the wrong mindset to have."
RSL's approach to this, a 90-minute match that could propel the club to its second MLS Cup appearance in five years, is to essentially erase the first leg, a match in which Real put Portland on its heels for 75 minutes after ex-RSL midfielder Will Johnson put the Timbers up 1-0 in the 14th minute.
"I just think we need to dictate the game," said defender Tony Beltran. "We need to go in there and put pressure on them, not just sit back and absorb for 90 minutes, because that's going to be very difficult."
Having essentially flipped the script from its first-round series against the L.A. Galaxy a series in which RSL returned home down in the two-leg series searching for a goal RSL's challenge lies in not allowing the Timbers to find belief.
"We play good against them for some reason," said goalkeeper Nick Rimando. "They're a dangerous team, but we seem to always get up for the games. What's more important is, we're going to go out there and try and score, too. We're not going to sit back and let them just try and attack us."
And this isn't foreign territory for RSL.
In its March 2011 CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series against Costa Rican club Saprissa, RSL took a 2-0 lead to San Jose to face Alvaro Saborio's former club and lost 2-1, but withstood a menacing environment to advance to the final. Later that year, RSL barely escaped CenturyLink Field with a 3-2 aggregate after winning the first leg 3-0 and falling 2-0 in Seattle in the second.
Trekking back to Jeld-Wen Field, RSL feels comfortable having already earned two dramatic draws there this season.
"I think the mentality of the team is going to be really important," said head coach Jason Kreis. "If we go there feeling like we're protecting something, then we're going to be in trouble. We need to go there with the mindset that this is a brand new ball game and there's 90 minutes to play."
RSL at Portland
P Leg 2, Western Conference final, Sunday, 7 p.m., TV • ESPN
RSL vs. Portland
Aug. 13 at Rio Tinto Stadium • RSL 2, Portland 1
Aug. 21 at Jeld-Wen Field • RSL 3, Portland 3
Aug. 30 at Rio Tinto Stadium • RSL 4, Portland 2
Oct. 19 at Jeld-Wen Field • RSL 0, Portland 0
Nov. 10 at Rio Tinto • RSL 4, Portland 2