Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers square off again, and while the last match left this one teetering in RSL's favor, another 90 minutes are needed to protect the two-goal cushion leading to the MLS Cup final.
1. Don't allow Portland to build from wide positions
The Timbers thrive in wide positions cutting inside, and often, you'll find their most dangerous play emanating from channels between the flank and the center. If they're allowed time to build and either drive in a cross or play a ball across the face of the box, they'll be dangerous. Preventing the opposition from finding joy in those areas will be key, but it won't solve everything.
To accomplish this, Our midfielders will need to drop into deep positions in those channels, assisting the full backs in wide defense. If the forwards, too, drop back into defense when needed, two things happen: First, we're rendered more solid when defending without resorting to a line of six or seven players; second, we're put in a good position to exploit the inevitable pockets of space that will appear against an attacking Portland side, and to break forward apace.
2. Build through the middle
It's not that Portland possess any particular vulnerabilities through the middle, but this is how we know how to play. Abandoning that now, especially after it's given us so much joy throughout the season, would be folly. That approach also puts us in the strongest position to win set pieces, which are apparently our new favorite way to score (thank you, Chris Schuler.)
3. Utilize narrow strikers
In recent weeks, Jason Kreis has shifted his deployment of forwards somewhat: Where previously, one of the two was sent into a wide position (Robbie Findley or Joao Plata, typically) while the other was left in a more central position, Kreis is now setting out two strikers in more central positions. We saw this with Devon Sandoval and Robbie Findley against Portland in the first leg, and though it wasn't the first time we saw it, it surely brought us the most success. It seemed prior to the switch that we were attempting to shoehorn in some width to our innately narrow formation -- perhaps it is no surprise that when we returned to a more natural approach, we were successful. This also allows the strikers to combine a bit more, and when one of those isn't Alvaro Saborio, who can typically hold the ball until others join in attack, that could just be vital.
4. Don't give up silly free kicks in good positions
This goes without saying, really. Will Johnson scored from a free kick in a great position against us, and it's something we really should be aware of again. It will take a bit of confidence, but it's something of which we must be aware.
RSL at Portland. Western Conference Championship Leg 2. Sunday night. 7 p.m. MT. ESPN.
Real Salt Lake has been here before.
The Claret-and-Cobalt has taken a two-goal lead into the second leg of a tournament semifinals series once already, in the 2010-2011 CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals against Costa Rican club Saprissa. RSL topped Saprissa 2-0 in the first leg of the CCL Semis at Rio Tinto Stadium in March 2011, then went down to Alvaro Saborio’s former club for the second leg, losing 1-2 to win 3-2 on aggregate and move on to the CCL Final against Monterrey.
That CCL second leg was played on artificial turf in the incredibly daunting atmosphere at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, affectionately known as The Monster’s Cave. Conditions will be similar for this Sunday’s Western Conference Championship finale at Portland, with RSL again taking a two-goal lead into a second leg, again heading into a very tough atmosphere – the Timbers are 14-1-5 at JELD-WEN Field this year – and again playing on turf.
Let’s hope the Claret-and-Cobalt can advance from this one, too. Kick is at 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN.
Real Salt Lake-Portland Timbers. Western Conference Championship. Leg 2. Sunday. 7:00 MT. ESPN.
Hell hath no fury like a stoppage time BECKERBOMB.
Real Salt Lake did well to start the Western Conference Championship series on the right foot, scoring four-straight goals en route to beating the Portland Timbers 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday night.
We all know that the Claret-and-Cobalt’s two-goal advantage heading into the series’ second leg at JELD-WEN Field next Sunday, Nov. 24 is a big leg-up, even against a team as tough as the Timbers. Just how big of an advantage is that two-goal lead? Let’s take a historical look:
Since MLS shifted away from the best-of-three series and began using the two-legged aggregate goal format in 2003, a team has taken a two-goal aggregate lead into a series’ second leg nine times. The team with the two-goal advantage has advanced to the next round seven of those nine times, losing the two-goal lead and falling out of the playoffs on two occasions.
Teams that take a two-goal lead in the first leg at home and then play the second leg on the road have advanced to the next round three times and lost the series twice.
Interestingly, San Jose was involved in both of the series’ in which the team with a two-goal lead after the first leg was eliminated from the playoffs. The Quakes made the first such comeback in 2003, losing the first leg 2-0 at LA before moving onto the next round with an improbable 5-2 win over the Galaxy after extra time. San Jose wasn’t so lucky the next year, taking a 2-0 first leg lead over Kansas City before dropping the series following a 3-2 loss at the Wizards in the decisive second leg.
History is clearly on RSL’s side. Of course, that doesn’t mean much with the second leg in Portland, where the Timbers have gone a sterling 14-1-5 in MLS regular season, MLS Cup Playoff and U.S. Open Cup action this year. We’ll see how it plays out at JELD-WEN Field in 10 days’ time.
Real Salt Lake got the Western Conference Championship series off to a good start on Sunday night, toppling the Portland Timbers 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Sunday’s win:
Sunday’s game was the first Sunday home game in Real Salt Lake’s nine-year history. Despite the unique nature of a Sunday home game in Utah and the short turnaround following last Thursday’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg win over LA, RSL fans came out in full force on Sunday night, with 17,333 raucous supporters filling Rio Tinto Stadium to near capacity.
With Sunday’s victory, RSL broke Portland’s 10-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. The Timbers’ last loss prior to Sunday also came against the Claret-and-Cobalt, with RSL topping the Cascadia side by an identical 4-2 score line on Aug. 30 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Sunday’s win extended RSL’s unbeaten streak over Portland to nine games in all competitions. The Claret-and-Cobalt is 6-1-3 all-time against the Timbers, posting a 3-0-2 record against the Oregon side in MLS and Open Cup play in 2013. Of the Timbers seven defeats in all competitions in 2013, three of them have been against RSL.
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler scored in the 35th minute of Sunday’s win, heading home a Javier Morales corner kick to tie the game 1-1. It was the second goal in as many games for Schuler, who volleyed home a Morales set piece in extra time of Thursday’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg win over LA. Prior to Thursday’s match, the 26-year-old Schuler had two goals in his entire career.
RSL’s four goal output on Sunday night gave the Claret-and-Cobalt 13 goals in five meetings against Portland in all competitions this year. That’s good for 2.6 goals per game – or 1.62 goals per game higher than Portland’s 0.97 regular season goals against average.
RSL maestro Javier Morales had a goal and two assists last night, giving him three goals and three assists in four games against the Timbers this season. Morales has one goal and three assist for RSL this postseason. He is one of nine different RSL players to score against Portland this year and one of seven different RSL players to notch an assist over the Timbers this season.
Portland has been fantastic at home this season, posting a 14-1-5 mark at JELD-WEN Field in regular season, playoff and Open Cup action. The Timbers’ lone home loss came all the way back on March 9, when they fell to Montreal in just their second home game of the season. While Portland has been dominant at home, RSL has acquitted itself nicely at JELD-WEN Field. The Claret-and-Cobalt went 0-0-2 in Portland this season and were the only team to take two positive results out of Oregon this season. RSL is 1-1-2 all-time at Portland.
ABC 4's Real Sports Live has done a fantastic job of covering Real Salt Lake's run through the playoffs, going live with extended coverage from StubHub Center last week after the first leg of RSL's Western Conference Semifinal series against LA and again following Sunday night's West Championship first leg against Portland at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Check out video of Real Sports Live's postgame coverage of Sunday's win over Portland below. The show airs every Sunday night at 10:35 p.m. MT on ABC 4.
Highlights and postgame reaction from Bill Riley and Brian Dunseth:
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis interview with Brian Dunseth:
RSL defender Chris Schuler interview with Bill Riley:
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis was asked in his press conference following Thursday's Western Conference Semifinal win over LA what the Rio Tinto Stadium crowd needs to bring in Sunday's Western Conference Championship first leg against Portland.
Here's what he had to say:
“I think for me it’s pretty simple. We need to be here early – there needs to be that really raucous singing of the song “Believe” at the beginning of the match. I thought that was spectacular today how noisy it was. And just to carry that energy and to continue to believe. We tell our players all the time that no matter what happens in the game, we continue to work hard, we continue to stay together and we continue to believe. If you do those three things, something in the end will happen right.”
Listen to the man. Get your tickets now.
The Western Conference’s final four was set on Wednesday night, with fourth-seed Seattle Sounders FC downing fifth-seed Colorado Rapids 2-0 at CenturyLink Field in the West’s Knockout Round to move to the Western Conference Semifinals against top-seed Portland Timbers.
The Seattle-Portland series will kick on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. MT at CenturyLink Field on NBC Sports Network. The winner of the Sounders-Timbers semifinal will take on the winner of the RSL-LA Western Conference Semifinal winner in the Western Conference Final series.
Real Salt Lake stacks up relatively well against the West’s remaining playoff teams this regular season, with the Claret-and-Cobalt registering a 4-3-2 combined league record – 5-3-2 in all competitions – against the Galaxy, Timbers and Sounders.
RSL was 1-2-0 against the Galaxy in the regular season. RSL and LA will play the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal at 7:00 p.m. MT at StubHub Center on Sunday night on ESPN. The sides will meet next Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7:00 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium for the series’ second leg – get your tickets today.