Sandy • A bad shoulder, a fifth card.
The reasons are different, but for Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers the outcomes are the same: When two of the three top teams in the West kick off Wednesday night, each will be missing its captain.
Real Salt Lake at Portland TimbersAt Jeld-Wen Field (Portland, Ore.)
Kickoff » 9 p.m. TV » CW30
Records » RSL 12-8-5 (41 points); Portland 9-3-11 (38 points)
Last meeting » RSL beat Portland 2-1 on Aug. 7 at Rio Tinto Stadium
About RSL » Still Major League Soccer’s top team despite only winning once in its last five league matches. ... Will play Portland three times (Aug. 21, Aug. 30 and Oct. 19) before the end of the year. ... Has scored 22 road goals, compared to 19 home goals. ... Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio leads the team with nine goals. ... Midfielder Javier Morales is best on the team with eight assists.
About the Timbers » New head coach Caleb Porter has helped jump start a Portland team that finished second-to-last in the West a season ago. ... Former RSL man Will Johnson, Portland’s captain, will miss the match with a shoulder injury. ... Ryan Johnson, a former RSL draft pick, leads the team with eight goals this year.
Portland’s Will Johnson injured his shoulder in his homecoming to Rio Tinto Stadium, a U.S. Open Cup semifinal loss to RSL two weeks ago, and hasn’t trained since.
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman, meanwhile, picked up a yellow card — his fifth of the season — for arguing with a referee during last weekend’s loss in Los Angeles, and will serve a suspension while his team plays at Jeld-Wen Field.
"I think it’s kind of a wash a little bit," said RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "Will is obviously a great player. Kyle is obviously a great player and the leader of our team. This is just how it goes in MLS. Guys get suspended this time of year, there are injuries, call-ups. There are always different guys in and out, and this is when the better teams show how important depth is. Hopefully we do that [Wednesday] night."
RSL coach Jason Kreis believes both teams will be impacted equally by the losses.
"I think they’re both extremely important players to each respective side," he said. "Both are central figures. Both are guys that get the ball a lot in the match and dictate the temp of the game. And both are players that win a lot of plays back for their teams. Similar players, I think, tactically for their teams, and a similar importance."
RSL beat Portland in Open Cup play on Aug. 7, but the Timbers looked to be the more dangerous team for stretches of the game. Away from Rio Tinto, Salt Lake players know they have their work cut out for them.
Salt Lake remains in first place in the league with 41 points, but more recently the team has only won once in its last five league games.
"We’re in first place, but we haven’t been playing that great lately," defender Chris Wingert said. "So we’re just looking to improve."
With nine games left in the regular season, RSL is looking to regain the form that saw the club reel off an 11-game unbeaten streak earlier this year.
"You want to hit the playoffs in stride," center back Nat Borchers said. "You want to end the season well and make a run. That’s how most teams that win championships do it. That’s how we did it in ‘09."
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