Matchday: MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Final Preview | Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers - Nov. 10, 2013
WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP - FIRST LEG
REAL SALT LAKE v PORTLAND TIMBERS
Sun., Nov. 10, Rio Tinto Stadium (6 pm PT; ESPN; 750 The Game / La Pantera 940)
The last two teams to reach the conference championship in their first appearance ever in the MLS Cup Playoffs meet in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship when Real Salt Lake play host to the Portland Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium. Real put an end to the three-peat ambitions of the LA Galaxy, winning their semifinal series 2-1 on aggregate after a 2-0 extratime win at home in the second leg. The Timbers were the only team to win both ends of their semifinal, defeating arch-rival Seattle Sounders FC 5-3 on aggregate. Real come into the playoff series with just one loss all-time to the Timbers across all competitions, including two wins and two draws in four matches this season.
The Timbers scored five goals in their conference semifinal win against Seattle -- the most scored by any club in a two-leg series in the MLS Cup Playoffs since 2003. Portland scored five goals against RSL in three league meetings this season.
"I thought our combination play at times, our ability to control the game with possession at times, our ruthlessness getting to goal was very good," said Timbers head coach Caleb Porter. "We should've had more goals. The coach in me is going to look at the tape and say we shouldíve scored five, six goals."
The Timbers were the only club to win both legs of their semifinal series, the first team to do it since Houston and Kansas City did in 2011. Portland is now unbeaten in its last 10 league and cup games. "It means that we're three games away and we have two teams in our way," Porter said. "... We'll keep taking it one at a time, but weíre getting closer. This team genuinely believes that we have a realistic shot at this. It means a lot, but we're not going to think about what it means until, hopefully, the end."
The Timbers had not allowed a goal at JELD-WEN Field since Aug. 21 -- more than 520 minutes in league and cup play -- before Sounders FC hit for two in two minutes late in the second leg.
"It's a reminder that if you let your guard down in this sport you'll get punched in the nose. We were clearly in control of that game ... For me, it was probably a good thing because itís a wakeup call and it keeps us grounded. We donít leave this game feeling invincible, bulletproof at 3-0."
Will Johnson scored his first career MLS Cup Playoffs goal in his 16th postseason match in opening the scoring from the penalty spot in the second leg. Johnson played every playoff game for RSL from 2008-12.
The Timbers have defeated Real once in nine meetings all-time in all competitions – a 1-0 win in the first encounter between the clubs, April 30, 2011 in Portland. "For me, the record in the playoffs is even. We've never played them in the playoffs so I think it's a totally different game," Will Johnson said. "Whatever the regular-season statistics are, they are what they are, but this is the playoffs now so it's a brand new slate."
- Said Porter: "The nice thing is that we played Seattle and they play a diamond. So we're really in a rhythm playing basically a similar system. I think thats a real key in a quick turnaround. There's not a ton of tactical changes that weíre going to have to make. A lot of the same things we will want to exploit against Salt Lake are things we wanted to exploit against Seattle."
REAL SALT LAKE
Real won a playoff game for the first time since the 3-0 win against Seattle in the first leg of their 2011 conference semifinal, ending a five-game playoff winless run (0-4-1).
"I think the crowd did an unbelievable job, they just keep spurring us on and spurring us on," said RSL head coach Jason Kreis. "Interesting right? The two guys that scored tonight, I believe it was their first goals of the season, Sebastian's first goal of his career. This was a playoff series of guys that don't normally score goals scoring the goals."
Real did not lose to Portland in 2013. RSL won one of the three league meetings, with two draws, scoring seven goals. Real also won 2-1 in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"It will be another two games that weíre going to have to give another great effort like we did tonight," said Kyle Beckerman. "Nothing comes easily in the playoffs, but it's something we look forward to. They're a good team, we're a good team and we just like to go against the best."
Sebastian Velasquez scored his first professional goal with his first-half header sent Real on their way against the Galaxy. "He is an extremely hungry player that has some real gifts," Kreis said. "It's sometimes difficult to get some of those gifts to come out of him. But tonight I think he took a major step forward."
Chris Schuler netted his first career playoff goal to seal the series. Schuler has started the last six RSL matches in league and cup play, after missing more than four months through injury.
"A number of balls he stepped in front of from Donovan and Keane today. He made physical challenges and completed the first pass. All those little things were huge for us," Kreis said. "Once again this game I walk away from it and I say 'I'm really happy that Chris Schuler scored the game winning goal because he deserved it."
There are injury concerns for RSL ahead of the conference final first leg. Ned Grabavoy missed the Galaxy match with a hamstring injury, and Alvaro Saborio could not finish the match Thursday evening.
- "It wasn't due to fatigue, it was due to a muscle pull," said Kreis. "But we've been there before haven't we? I think back to the Open Cup match when we went into overtime I think we were playing down a man and for some moments in that game, and in the playoff we were down two men."
REFEREE: Armando Villarreal. AR1 (bench): George Gansner; AR2 (opposite): Frank Anderson; 4th: Baldomero Toledo
WARNINGS (suspended next yellow card): RSL: Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, Khari Stephenson ... POR: Rodney Wallace, Ben Zemanski, Pa Modou Kah, Diego Chara
LEAGUE HEAD-TO-HEAD: RSL 4 wins, 16 GF … POR 1 win, 10 goals … Ties 3
2013 HEAD-TO-HEAD: RSL 1 win, 7 GF … POR 0 wins, 5 goals … Ties 2
AT RIO TINTO STADIUM:
8/30: RSL 4, POR 2 (Gil 9; Plata 15; Morales 55; Saborio 67 – Nagbe 31; Zizzo 78)
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS: First meeting.