Sandy • Who's the boss?
Both Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers, similar in their methodology of play and on-the-pitch mindset, are clubs that are always out to dictate pace and attack the opposition when given any sliver of opportunity.
Yes, the Western Conference final series should be electric as the two sides clash in the first leg Sunday night at Rio Tinto Stadium at 7 p.m. The Timbers, in their first playoff appearance in Major League Soccer, earned the No. 1 seed out West and earned the right to host the second leg of the series on Sunday, Nov. 24, at JELD-WEN Field in downtown Portland.
But the similarities between the two franchises are apparent. Both are headed by former MLS players fresh in their professional coaching careers and both have implemented bold ways of approaching each match.
"I see similarities, certainly," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "I see a team that wants to be on top of things, a team that's aggressive, a team that wants to dictate the tempo of the match, and I appreciate that. That's the way I see soccer. Some people see it the other way."
While the formations may be different and the pieces have varying talents, RSL and Portland are two sides that function best through their respective adept midfields.
RSL will be faced with slowing down MVP candidate Diego Valeri, along with former teammate and Portland captain Will Johnson and the likes of Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe. The Timbers midfield has helped produce 10 goals in the last three matches leading into this first conference final leg.
"A lot of talent in the midfield area, on their team as well as ours," said RSL forward Robbie Findley. "A lot of movement, [Portland is] very, very creative in the attacking half, so you can pick it out to some things and we say we have similarities, but we've just got to focus on what we need to do."
Coming off a 2-1 aggregate series win over the L.A. Galaxy in the Western Conference semifinal, RSL's approach certainly changes.
The Timbers aren't the counter-attacking team the Galaxy was, but both RSL and Portland have faced off four times in the latter months of the MLS season. RSL went 2-0-2 against the Timbers.
"It definitely makes us feel a little more comfortable in our opposition and sort of knowing their strengths and knowing their weaknesses, where we can get at them and where they can get at us," Kreis said. "There really isn't a whole lot of planning we need to do."
And Ned Grabavoy says the slate has been wiped clean.
The RSL midfielder said his team can't look too much into the two wins at Rio Tinto Stadium, nor the two draws at JELD-WEN Field.
"You get used to playing a team and the games play out differently," Grabavoy said, "but you get familiar, just as we were familiar with L.A."
RSL and Portland are familiar. Johnson was a staple to RSL's success for many seasons and is now leading the charge for a Timbers side playing undaunted by the stage of a first postseason appearance.
"It's clubs, for me, that do things the right way," Johnson said, "who want to play entertaining, attacking soccer, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is to win."
Western Conference final Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake
O At Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy)
Kickoff • Sunday, 7 p.m.
TV • ESPN. Radio • 700 AM
Last meeting • RSL 0, Portland 0 (Oct. 19)
About RSL • The No. 2 seed in the West, RSL has gone 2-0-2 against the Timbers across all competitions this season. â¦ The two sides faced off the four times in three months, the first three coming within a 24-day span. â¦ RSL is 5-1-3 all time against Portland. â¦ Forward Alvaro Saborio, who will miss the first leg due to injury, has scored seven career goals in six matches against the Timbers. â¦ In four competitions this season, the two sides have totaled to score 15 goals, with the most recent matchup being a 0-0 draw at JELD-WEN Field. â¦ Midfielder Javier Morales has scored eight goals and dished out 10 assists this year for RSL.
About Portland • The No. 1 seed out West, Portland finished with its best season in its short MLS career earning 57 points and going 14-5-15. â¦ Paced by MVP candidate Diego Valeri, who has 10 goals and 13 assists with the Timbers this season in his first year in the league. â¦ Portland coach Caleb Porter has yet to top RSL, going 0-2-2 this season. â¦ Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts ranks seventh in MLS with most saves with 92. â¦ Midfielders Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe have combined to score 18 goals and assist on nine goals.