Real Salt Lake looks for key win vs. Timbers (Sep 16, 2017)

Two teams looking to make an important late-season push square off Saturday night when Real Salt Lake hosts the Portland Timbers in a critical Western Conference clash.

Fresh off a 1-0 win over New York City FC in the Bronx, the Timbers will have a chance to move alone atop the conference with a second consecutive road victory. Real Salt Lake can climb above the playoff line with a second win over Portland this season.

“It’s a big game for them and it’s a big game for us because we want to be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, so we’re going to keep fighting for that,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “That’s been our mindset and we’re not going to change anything. We’re not going to change a thing.”

With wins in three of their last four games, the Timbers are rounding into form at the perfect time and head into Rio Tinto Stadium tied on points with the Vancouver Whitecaps atop the Western Conference.

Portland (12-9-8), which will be without suspended midfielder Diego Chara, lost just once since a 4-1 hammering by Real Salt Lake at home on July 19. The Timbers are 5-1-2 in their last eight games.

A big part of that has been the play of red-hot midfielder Diego Valeri, who tied an MLS record with a goal in his seventh straight game when he scored the lone goal in the win at NYCFC last Saturday.

“We’re playing well, we’ve done well in these last eight games. We’re in good form and hopefully we can continue to be in that form,” Porter said. “Valeri has always been a key guy for us. There’s nothing different with that. He’s always been a key guy over the five years and always produced goals. You’d have to say he’s hotter than ever in terms of the goals at least. That’s great for him and great for our team.”

Real Salt Lake (10-14-5), which is currently in eighth place in the West and two points below the playoff line, is desperate to bounce back from a devastating 3-2 loss in Vancouver after consecutive wins in what is as close to a must-win as it gets.

“It’s still within our reach. It’s not a cliche. If we were six, seven, eight points out it would be a bit different,” Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke said. “We’re right there. … The opportunity has presented itself for us and we need to step up and grab it.”

Real Salt Lake remains home to take on the Seattle Sounders on Sept. 23, while the Timbers return home after three consecutive road games to host Orlando City SC on Sept. 24.