MX23RW : Monday, January 17 03:50:03| >> :600:3329155:3329155:
Dec 4, 2021 at 11.30pm UK at Providence Park
PortlandPortland Timbers
Salt LakeReal Salt Lake
Mora (5'), Moreno (61')
Moreno (61')
FT(HT: 1-0)

Herrera (58'), Ruiz (90+3')
Herrera (79')

Preview: Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Major League Soccer clash between Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Two teams who were not expected to do much when the playoffs began will battle each other on Saturday with a spot in the MLS Cup Final on the line as the Portland Timbers host Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Final from Providence Park.

A 90th-minute goal in the previous round sent the Timbers to their fourth final four in club history, beating the Colorado Rapids 1-0, while Claret and Cobalt also left it late last weekend, scoring twice in the final 20 minutes to knock out Sporting Kansas City 2-1.

Match preview

Portland Timbers forward Felipe Mora (9) celebrates his goal with forward Dairon Asprilla (27) against the Minnesota United in the first half at Allianz Field on July 24, 2021© Reuters

For the first time since 2018, the Portland Timbers are a win away from the MLS Cup final and taking on the same team who eliminated them (winning 5-2 over two legs) at this stage of the playoffs in 2013, albeit with a completely different mix of players.

Throughout what has been an unpredictable and challenging year at times, Giovanni Savarese has been able to keep his team playing consistently well despite plenty of injuries in the early stages of 2021.

When one key player goes down, another one always seems to step up for this side, and there have been several standout performers for them throughout the year.

Last Thursday, they were able to register their first shutout in their MLS-era postseason history, as they have done a much better job at limiting the space in behind their wing-backs.

What they have done most effectively in their two postseason encounters is catch their opponents in transition, as they put Minnesota United under real pressure numerous times in their first-round fixture and created a few sizeable chances against Colorado before eventually finding the breakthrough.

Tactical adjustments and reacting to what your opponents throw at you are a big part of being successful in MLS, and that is something that Savarese and his team have done well in the playoffs, particularly in their Conference Semi-Final victory against the Burgundy Boys.

They come into this match with victories in five straight contests, including a 3-1 win over RSL to begin the month of November.

Real Salt Lake midfielder Damir Kreilach reacts after his first half goal May 30, 2021© Reuters

The slipper still fits in Salt Lake City as Claret and Cobalt continue to defy the odds, advancing to this stage of the postseason for the first time since 2013.

Coming into Decision Day in the regular season, Salt Lake looked dead and buried, losing three of their previous four games, but miraculously and seemingly out of nowhere, they have flipped a switch and now find themselves at the penultimate hurdle of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

This side have been down plenty of times in 2021 but never out, and that was the case at Children's Mercy Park last weekend as they kept pushing forward despite going behind to a Johnny Russell penalty in the 24th minute.

Since their defeat to Portland last month, Pablo Mastroeni has made some minor tweaks that have ended up making a big difference, notably changing from a back three to a back four, which has allowed them to be a lot more compact against some dangerous attacking sides, conceding only once in their last three fixtures against KC (twice) and the Seattle Sounders.

After beginning the playoffs on the back foot against Seattle, failing to sustain much pressure and firing zero shots, they were far more aggressive against the Wizards, carrying the play for the opening 20 minutes before the home side earned a penalty.

Persistence is a virtue, and that is one quality that this team have in spades, never willing to throw in the towel, scoring 20 of their 57 goals this year (including the playoffs) beyond the 75th minute.

Countless times since taking over this team on an interim basis, Mastroeni has emphasised the importance of managing moments, and that is something that his players have been able to do when they need it most, always finding a way to come out on top recently when their backs were up against the wall.

Portland Timbers Major League Soccer form:
  • L
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W

Real Salt Lake Major League Soccer form:
  • W
  • L
  • L
  • W
  • W
  • W

Team News

Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese directs his team against Real Salt Lake during the first half at Providence Park on August 7, 2021© Reuters

Portland have found a way to overcome the absence of several key players all year, and they will have to contend with that again this weekend as Sebastian Blanco, who led the team in assists in the regular season, is out with a hamstring injury, while Dairon Asprilla will not play following his expulsion in injury time against the Rapids.

Larrys Mabiala, who kickstarted their comeback victory versus the Loons with the equaliser in their opening round fixture, was the hero last week, scoring his second career MLS playoff goal, while Steve Clark picked up his first career postseason clean sheet, stopping all three shots that he faced.

In their last home fixture versus RSL this year, the Timbers crushed Claret and Cobalt 6-1 with goals from Felipe Mora, Dairon Asprilla, Yimmi Chara, Diego Chara, Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Cristhian Paredes.

After keeping his nerve and scoring in their penalty shootout triumph versus the Rave Green, RSL striker Bobby Wood had quite the encore against the Wizards, putting home the winner in injury time after Anderson Julio had levelled the match with less than 20 minutes remaining.

Albert Rusnak, who only missed 15 minutes for his side in their 34-game regular season, is once again available for selection after being forced out of the lineup due to health and safety protocols, but Everton Luiz will not be eligible to play after being issued another yellow card last weekend.

Damir Kreilach has four goals in his career against the Timbers, scoring once in each of the first two games against them this year, although he has not found the back of the net in the playoffs.

Portland Timbers possible starting lineup:
Clark; Bravo, Zuparic, Mabiala, Van Rankin; Paredes, D. Chara; Valeri, Fochive, Y. Chara; Niezgoda

Real Salt Lake possible starting lineup:
Ochoa; Holt, Silva, Glad, Herrera; Ruiz, Brody, Chang; Rusnak; Kreilach, Rubin

SM words green background

We say: Portland Timbers 1-1 Real Salt Lake (RSL wins on penalties)

They have defied the odds time and again, and there is no reason to believe that they cannot do it once more as RSL will be bolstered by the return of their second-leading goalscorer in the regular season (Rusnak), while the Timbers are missing some critical pieces to their success, most notably Blanco, which could be a little too much for them to overcome in spite of their depth.

We will give Salt Lake the edge in this one because they have been in so many win-or-go-home scenarios of late that it should not overwhelm them, especially since they will not be favourites according to the bookies heading into this match.

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Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese directs his team against Real Salt Lake during the first half at Providence Park on August 7, 2021
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