Looming RSL Match Biggest Test of 2013 for Timbers

Saturday’s match has playoff, Supporters’ Shield implications
by Ray Marcham   |   Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Green Logs – column on Portland Timbers (PTFC) & the Portland, Oregon area soccer scene.

Once again, the Portland Timbers face the biggest match of the season.

And on Saturday night, the stakes are even higher against Real Salt Lake than they were against Seattle. The mountain may also be that much higher to climb, as well.

What’s on the line at JELD-WEN Field for Portland on Saturday? First place in the MLS Western Conference, a possible shot at the Supporters’ Shield, being able to clinch a playoff spot and 1 last regular season shot to beat RSL, something they have failed to do in 3 chances this season.

It’s also the final regular season home match for the Timbers, though they would love nothing more than to play at least 1 more match beyond that at JWF.

Coming off an emotional, physical 1-0 Cascadia win over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday night, there is no time to relax for the Timbers. They have not beaten RSL in 3 attempts this season, and that makes Saturday’s match even more important.

There are some injury worries. Not much is known yet about Maxi Urruti’s hamstring, which he seemed to injure in the Seattle match. Diego Valeri didn’t play on Sunday as he still deals with the adductor injury that’s plagued him for weeks. But Frederic Piquionne saw first-team action for the first time in 2 months on Sunday, coming on for the injured Urruti for the last 10 minutes. That adds to the depth that Caleb Porter will be relying on for as the season ends and the playoffs loom.

But if any club has been able to figure out the Timbers’ style under manager Caleb Porter, it’s been RSL. After knocking Portland out of the US Open Cup in the semifinals on August 7, the Utah side then snagged a 3-3 draw in Portland on August 21 (Cole Grossman scoring in 2nd half stoppage time to let RSL grab a crucial point) and cruised to a 4-2 win at Rio Tinto Stadium on August 30. They have played the physical game that gave the Timbers fits, but Portland was able to dish as well as take against Seattle, which means they likely will be ready for whatever RSL gives them.

One player who has given the Timbers trouble that won’t be in the RSL lineup on Saturday is Javier Morales. He is suspended for Saturday’s match due to yellow card accumulations. Also suspended for RSL is Abdoulie Mansally, who is suspended for the rest of the regular season after a red card against FC Dallas on October 5. No Portland players are suspended for the match.

In a strange bit of scheduling, bot Portland and RSL finish their regular season schedule against Chivas USA. The Goats visit Rio Tinto Stadium on October 23, and then host Portland on October 26.

With as tight as the Western Conference is, nothing can be taken for granted. No club in the conference has yet to clinch a playoff spot, and if Los Angeles beats Montreal on Wednesday night, that means the Galaxy, RSL, Portland and Seattle will only be separated by 2 points going into the weekend. With Colorado, San Jose and Vancouver all still in the hunt for the playoffs, nothing can be taken for granted.

Oh, and the Supporters’ Shield race? Portland is tied with New York on top of the standings, with RSL and Sporting Kansas City just a point back. Seattle is 2 points back, and could be tied with LA if the Galaxy wins on Wednesday. Not only is the shield on the line, but also the chance to host the MLS Cup final. That makes the last 2 weeks of the season even more important, as if playoff positioning (and even just making the playoffs) isn’t enough of an issue.

It comes down to this: If Portland can finally get that elusive win over Real Salt Lake, then they likely clinch a playoff spot, stay on top of the West with only a trip to Chivas USA left on the schedule and grab the top spot in the Supporters’ Shield race for a day (New York plays at Houston on Sunday). A draw means things stay tight, and could mean a 3-way tie for 1st in the West with Seattle and LA if they win. If they lose, the question of playoff positioning, or even making the playoffs, becomes an issue.

Saturday will be the Timbers’ toughest test of the season, and their most important. If they pass the test, the rewards will be massive.

NEXT UP: October 19 – Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake, JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore. 10:30 p.m. EST, ROOT Sports (NW), MLS Live.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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