Here are three takeaways from Real Salt Lake’s 2-1 win over the Portland Timbers.
1. The mother of all short turnarounds looms
Throughout any MLS season for any team, there will be midweek games. Most of the time, they’re against other teams in the league. Other times, they’re for tournaments like the U.S. Open Cup or the newly created Leagues Cup.
But with RSL traveling to Seattle for a midweek face-off against the Sounders in the second round of the playoffs, however, its players now have just a few days to recover and prepare for the most important game of the season.
Eight of 11 starters logged all 90 minutes, and Albert Rusnák put in 89. Corey Baird and Damir Kreilach each played 77 minutes.
So although Real are thrilled they advanced to the next round, the coaching staff, along with the sports science staff, have some choices to make about who will play.
“We’re going to have to look and see what kind of fresh legs we can also put in there,” interim coach Freddy Juarez said. “It’s going to be hard to repeat the same 11. But they all came out healthy, which is the important part. Now we have to see who can give us the best opportunity to win on the road.”
One option could be striker Sam Johnson, who played 13 minutes against the Timbers. Justen Glad also is an option at center back after he didn’t come off the bench Saturday.
2. Portland needed Diego Valeri sooner
The best player for the Timbers logged only 27 minutes in a playoff game.
Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said keeping Valeri out was an easy decision for two reasons.
“One, because he’s just coming back from an injury and we needed to make sure we managed his minutes," Savarese said. "Second, the team that played last week played very, very well. We completely dominated San Jose. We won in a very strong and determined fashion, and I think the guys that played deserved to come back and play again.”
OK, understandable. Valeri did miss the last two games of the season due to a calf injury, even though there’s some speculation that it has more to do with his current contract dispute with the club.
Even so, Valeri was the reason Portland beat RSL in the most recent regular season game between the two. When he’s out there, he’s the best player on the field. And Savarese said earlier this week that Valeri was training fully. So why not start him?
It’s a bit of a mystery, but ultimately a coach’s decision. There’s no telling how the game goes if Valeri starts and plays more than 27 minutes. But it’s too late now.
3. The weather outside really was weather
The forecast already called for a chilly night. But the surprise came at the start of the game when it appeared to be snowing at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The precipitation definitely became snow at halftime, officially marking the first snow game of the 2019 season for RSL.
The conditions had no real effect on the players or the 17,452 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium, even though RSL started the second half poorly and the Timbers took control after scoring in the 47th minute.
Jefferson Savarino’s game-winning goal in the 87th minute came when the inclement weather had all but let up.
Soccer is played in practically any weather condition, save for lightning. Defender Aaron Herrera said that while players have to adjust to the elements, it was definitely something he noticed Saturday.
“We’ve sort of been blessed all year with the good weather, so this is sort of the the first time we’ve played in rain and snow,” Herrera said. “I don’t think all year we played in any rain or snow. It happens. You just have to play through it.”