Tonight it’s Real Salt Lake at home. The Timbers have only defeated RSL a single time and in that match there was no Nick Rimando. If Portland wants into the playoffs, they likely have to get three points from the West’s third place club.
On paper, the Timbers look like they’ve been doing fantastic to close out the season. With three wins and just a single loss in their last six, things are definitely looking up from where they began. However, it’s easy to forget that two of those wins came from a paper thin San Jose Earthquakes team and that their sole loss was a disaster in Toronto where they went up two only to lose 3-2. That’s what Portland has to guard against tonight: complacency after taking the lead. If the defense gets caught ball watching, Joao Plata, Javi Morales, and Alvaro Saborio will make them pay.
Luckily, Portland, aside from the obvious lack of captain Will Johnson, are pretty much at full strength. Norberto Paparatto has been playing well alongside Liam Ridgewell and Alvas Powell is back from international duty. Valeri’s no longer suspended and the entire attack is in form. The big question is going to be WJ’s replacement Ben Zemanski. Can he keep up with Javi and Plata? Add in the speed and support of Robbie Findley and the linking of Kyle Beckerman and I’m a touch worried about the Akron midfielder. The nice thing is that he is more defensive minded than Johnson. He’s going to be hit hard and often, hopefully Z-Man can cope.
Real Salt Lake, while a very strong team, is missing one big piece: defender Chris Schuler. Schuler is a rock in the backline and his absence could give Timbers’ striker Fanendo Adi enough room to dominate like he did against RSL in June. In Schuler’s place comes the 21 year old Carlos Salcedo. The young Mexican has played well in the 10 matches he’s featured in this year. I don’t know that he has the strength to fend off Adi, let alone the dealing with the large Nigerian in the air. I’m predicting at least one ball headed home for Fanendo tonight.
Obviously, I’m all in on Adi. Despite Diego Valeri’s form and skill, Adi is my pick for man of the match. If he isn’t slotting them home, he’ll be serving up assists by holding off defenders and picking out a streaking wing. Effectively, I’m expecting a Ryan Johnson like performance tonight.
Portland Timbers: Donovan Ricketts; Jorge Villafana, Liam Ridgewell, Norberto Paparatto, Michael Harrington; Ben Zemanski, Diego Chara; Rodney Wallace, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe; Fanendo Adi
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Chris Wingert, Carlos Salcedo, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran; Kyle Beckerman; Ned Grabavoy, Luke Mulholland; Sebastian Velasquez; Robbie Findley, Joao Plata