KeyBank Scouting Report: Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers - Aug. 30, 2013

Saborio, Morales & Beckerman feature for solid RSL side

For the third time this season, the Portland Timbers come up against Real Salt Lake as they meet at Rio Tinto Stadium  on Friday night (7pm PT, NBC Sports Network, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940 AM). Here is all the inside information on the opposition.

TACTICAL VIEW

What can the Timbers expect?
Having lost 2-1 to RSL in a tight Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal and then tied 3-3 in a gripping midweek league game at JELD-WEN Field, the Timbers will know exactly what to expect, namely, a tough battle. Undoubtedly one of the best teams in the league right now, RSL plays swift, attacking soccer that can be difficult to combat because they usually dominate possession and keep their opponents on the back foot thus denying them opportunities to create chances on goal.

When they play their midfield diamond in a 4-4-2 set-up, RSL really get going. At times, they can be quite compact and drive through the middle when going out wide might be the better option, but they have their style of play perfected. With Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales directing the traffic in midfield, they link play as if it is second nature to them and get the best out of their forwards by making clever runs, sliding through defense-splitting passes, and putting in crosses at speed.

Where are they most vulnerable?
Attacking RSL through the middle can often be a difficult challenge as they have so much support in that area with Ned Grabavoy doing a masterful job in helping out Beckerman. But they can be stretched out wide and Darlington Nagbe has had a lot of joy against left back Chris Wingert in their two meetings this season, while the overlapping runs of Alvas Powell and Michael Harrington can help the Timbers to get in behind the RSL backline to either set up chances or finish them off.

While they do have a solid shot-stopper in Nick Rimando, RSL can be caught out one a team breaks beyond their midfield cover. This is where someone like Diego Valeri can turn the heat up, but he must act quickly because RSL have a tendency to recover quite quickly once their defense has been breached. Yet, they are vulnerable at outside back and if the right kind of pass or run is made, then their knack for creeping forward can be exposed.

Who are their main threats?
When Morales gets on the ball in the final third of the pitch, he can wreak havoc with his accurate passing and long-range shooting. One of the best playmakers in the league, he is someone who gives RSL an extra edge in attack. In front of him, Alvaro Saborio is a powerful forward who is just as good in the air as he is with the ball at his feet. Either Robbie Findley or Joao Plata should get the nod to start alongside Saborio and both bring pace and an eye for goal to a team with an excellent scoring rate.

RSL can also be dangerous from set pieces when they attempt to use the height of defenders Nat Bochers, Carlos Salcedo and Brandon McDonald to out-jump and overpower their opponents. The delivery from Morales is usually pin-point perfect and any balls that do drop in the penalty area will trigger Beckerman, Saborio, Findley and Plata into action. And the same players can make a difference in open play too, if afforded enough space to click into gear.

KEY MEN

Head coach: Jason Kreis
Part of a select group of players to have scored over 100 goals in MLS, Kreis has successfully made the transition from being a top player to an excellent head coach. Appointed as RSL’s main man in 2007, he maintains a 42 per cent win percentage and guided the team to their only MLS Cup triumph in 2009. A young coach with an ability to get the best out of his players, he is such an important part of the RSL franchise.

Star Player: Alvaro Saborio
This Costa Rica international has become one of MLS’ top strikers since signing for RSL in 2011. He has experience of playing in Switzerland and England, but he has played his best football for Kreis’ team, where he is a leading figure. Excellent in the air, he often overpowers opponents and lands headed goals into the net before they have reached him. But he is just as clinical with the ball at his feet, whether he is inside or outside the penalty area.

One To Watch: Luis Gil
Widely considered to be one of the best young American players around, this 19-year-old has already proved that he has the temperament to handle the rigors of MLS. A fleet-footed midfielder, he controls the ball well, moves it quickly, and links play as if it is second nature to him. Having stood out at the recent FIFA Under 20 World Cup for the United States, he is now aiming to make a similar impact on a regular basis with RSL.

FLASHBACK

What happened when the teams last met?
It was a pretty hectic game at JELD-WEN Field on August 22 as six goals were scored, two penalty kicks awarded, one red card flashed, and a dramatic finish ensured that both teams picked up a point. After Rodney Wallace opened the scoring on 24 minutes, Nat Bochers hit back and a Javier Morales penalty put RSL in front. Then Diego Valeri converted a penalty of his own before substitute Kalif Alhassan scored on 86 minutes, but three minutes into added time Cole Grossman fired in a goal to tie the game.

What did the Timbers learn from that game?
Even without three of their best players in Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio, RSL are still a really strong team. The reason for that is not just the options on their roster who can come in, but how every squad member can instantly adapt to their preferred style of play and execute the gameplan that Kreis had set out. Stats-wise, the match was incredibly close with RSL having the slight edge in possession (51 percent to 49 percent), total passes (405 to 392) and crosses from open play (18 to 17), which showed how tight it was and also that both teams played extremely well.

What did the coaches have to say at the time?

Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
“If we’re being honest, I think we’re all pretty gutted not to get the three points. Obviously, it’s in our hands at 3-2. We did a heck of a job in that second half, battling back. In the end, we’re disappointed.”

Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis
“I think [Portland] is a very dangerous team. I think that with that kind of crowd and that kind of momentum, they can get behind them. It’s extremely difficult and I have a ton of respect for our opponent. So I’m really, really pleased that we scored that late goal.”

How has RSL fared since then?
RSL played just one game since last facing the Timbers and they made the most of it too by destroying Columbus Crew in a 4-0 win. Beckerman netted twice, while Devon Sandoval and Luis Gil were also on target in a game where they controlled 65 percent possession, racked up an 85 percent passing accuracy and hit the target seven times from their 17 shots. It was a pretty complete performance and a good warm-up for the Timbers rematch.

Did You Know?
RSL defender Lovel Palmer, who joined the club this year, played 34 games for the Timbers over the course of two seasons after originally joining from Houston Dynamo.