Tonight, RSL will battle with Portland again for the third time this month. A lot of things have changed since the first meeting at the US Open Cup semifinal. For me, personally, this game expects to be much less emotionally stressful, there’s less on the line and RSL won’t be playing against Will Johnson — who’s still out from a shoulder injury he suffered at the first of these meetings and is still one of my favorite players in MLS.
What’s at stake
Bragging rights and pride, mostly. RSL remains at the top of the tables, not just in the Western Conference, but in all of MLS. Far enough ahead that even if they lost, at home, and the top rivals in each conference won (in this case the Impact in the East and the Galaxy in the West), they’d still be at the top with 45 points against a potential 44 (for the Impact) or 43 (for the Galaxy). The Timbers, on the other hand, could potentially jump from 4th place in the west to second if everything plays out perfectly (e.g. with a win at the RioT, the Galaxy falling to or tying with the Earthquakes and a similar result in the Colorado/KC match). On the other hand, if the Timbers lose, they could drop down to 5th behind a surging Seattle Sounders team who play Columbus this weekend (who RSL mopped up last week).
This game also brings with it momentum into the closing stages of the season. A win here wouldn’t mean much in terms of the standings, but it would continue a run of good form during a period of the season that can be pretty shaky. As I said last week, this is the part of the season where RSL began a free-fall in which they went game after game with very few — if any — goals. That is, thankfully, not a problem they’ve had recently.
Timbers are missing key players, RSL get theirs back
The other factor is the Timbers have a longer injury list than RSL does right now. In addition to Will, they’ll be missing Jack Jewsbury, Frederic Piquionne, Pa Modou Kah (for yellow card accumulation), and a number of other players who would otherwise be getting starting minutes. Earlier this week, Caleb Porter was quoted to have some “surprises” up his sleeve for this match. I hope so. He’ll need all the tricks he can come up with in an away match against a team he has yet to defeat.
On the other hand, Sabo was reportedly in training yesterday and may well get the start. Depending on who was performing better in training, we could see Sabo and Plata up top or Sabo and Findley. In the back we can expect to see either Salcedo or McDonald alongside Borchers. With no games for 2 weeks, this will likely be a strong, first-team squad.