Timbers-Real Salt Lake Preview
The Portland Timbers have a chance to take control of the Western Conference's final postseason spot while also crippling Real Salt Lake's chances.
Wednesday night's match is the first of a three-game sprint to the playoffs, with the winner likely feeling much better about its chances to participate.
Visiting Portland (12-11-8) enters this contest tied with San Jose for the sixth and final spot in the West with 44 points, but the Timbers have played one less game and control their own destiny.
Portland needs seven points to guarantee a postseason bid and finishes the regular season at defending champion Los Angeles and at home against last-place Colorado.
"We obviously know what we need to do," Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. "Seven points gets us in, regardless of what happens in the other games."
Portland might have been in a better position if not for a scoring drought down the stretch. The Timbers have been shut out in three of their last four matches and are 1-3-2 since back-to-back wins in mid-August.
The victory prior to the downturn was one of only two for the Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium, both coming in their last two trips to Utah. Portland's 1-0 victory over RSL on Aug. 15 was decided on Nat Borchers' extra-time strike, which marked the only goal in the last three matchups between the clubs.
"This is going to be a playoff-like atmosphere, playoff-like game, playoff-like intensity," Borchers said. "It's going to be a special game, no doubt about it. We're up for it, we're ready for the challenge and excited for the game."
Real Salt Lake (11-12-8) has won three of four but still needs help to reach the playoffs, sitting tied with Houston three points back of the sixth spot. RSL will try to avoid missing the postseason for the first time in eight years by closing strong against FC Dallas at home and at Seattle in the regular-season finale.
The tiebreaker scenario doesn't favor RSL. Portland and San Jose are up one in the win column to hold an advantage in the first tiebreaker, while Salt Lake is one behind the Timbers and eight behind San Jose in goal differential.
Help may come with the addition of midfielder Kyle Beckerman and goaltender Nick Rimando, who were released from U.S. camp by coach Jurgen Klinsmann to finish the MLS playoff push. Beckerman has one goal and two assists to go with 26 shots in 24 starts this season, and Rimando has allowed 23 goals while making 63 saves in 23 starts.
"They are leaders on this team," coach Jeff Cassar told the team's official website. "They know how to manage a game. There's times when you need to speed it up. There's times when you need to slow it down, and they recognize those times."
RSL has won four of its last five at home while outscoring opponents 9-2.