Matchday Preview: MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Championship | Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake - Nov. 24, 2013
WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP - SECOND LEG
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. REAL SALT LAKE
Sun., Nov. 24, JELD-WEN Field, 6 p.m. PT (ESPN; RDS2)
MLS Cup 2013 will be set when the Portland Timbers play host to Real Salt Lake in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship on Sunday evening at JELD-WEN Field, needing to overcome a two-goal deficit following a 4-2 RSL victory two weeks ago at Rio Tinto Stadium. The Timbers are looking to be the first team in 10 years to overturn a two-goal deficit in the second leg of a total-goals series, trying to reach MLS Cup in their first appearance in the postseason. Real are aiming for a return to MLS Cup, which they won in 2009 in their only trip to the title game. RSL has not lost to the Timbers in nine games in all competitions, since the first meeting ever between the teams; the Timbers haven't lost in Portland since March.
First Leg Highlights
Needing goals in the second leg, the Timbers have scored seven goals in the MLS Cup Playoffs, tied for most in the league with Houston (who have played one more game).
"I think that last goal was big, really big, because I think it gave us a little bit of life knowing that now we only need two goals and that, for our team, meant a lot," said Timbers head coach Caleb Porter. "We know we are capable of that. And for their team, to some extent, probably that rattles them a little bit and gets them thinking.”
The last time a two-goal deficit was overturned in the second leg of a two-game series in MLS came in 2004, when the then-Kansas City Wizards lost the first leg to the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0, but came back to win the series 3-2 on aggregate. It’s happened just twice in MLS history (also, 2003 West semifinals, San Jose vs. Los Angeles, 5-4 on aggregate after a 0-2 first leg).
“The reality is, three is a whole other ball game,” Timbers defender Jack Jewsbury -- who then played for KC. " ... Obviously not the result we had hoped for coming in, but we realize that with the group we have in this locker room, two goals is very doable.”
The Timbers have allowed three or more goals on just five occasions in 2013 – and three of those have come against RSL. They have scored three goals or more seven times in 34 league matches.
“We’re capable of going to another level and turning it up a notch where we can score goals,” Porter said. “We’ve shown that this year. ... Obviously I wouldn’t have scripted it this way, this is not the way we wanted it to be. Obviously we were disappointed with the last game, but we know what we need to do.”
Portland has not lost at JELD-WEN Field since the second game of the season, a 2-1 loss to the Montréal Impact on March 9. Over all competitions, the Timbers are 14-1-5 on their home ground this year.
“I don’t think we’re under pressure,” Timbers defender Futty Danso said. “We know we can score more than three goals at home. We just need to go home and take care of business.”
Eight of 36 total goals in this year's playoffs have come from set pieces. Two have come from corner kicks -- both conceded by Portland in the first leg.
- “You can look at the four goals and think that we got shredded, and we did more than we should have, but you cut out the two corner kicks and you cut out the one we just gave them and they scored one goal on a counterattack,” Porter said.
REAL SALT LAKE
Real Salt Lake have a nine-game undefeated streak in all competitions alive vs. Portland. Since the Timbers won the first meeting ever between the teams, a 1-0 triumph April 30, 2011, RSL has four of seven league meetings (with three draws), as well as an Open Cup match this year and the first leg of the conference championship.
“We're not going to be able to go there and sit back and just have a laugh for 90 minutes,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said. “We're going to have to go there and work. We've still got 90 minutes of work to do if we want to advance.”
RSL has had a big lead following a first leg once before. In 2011, they defeated Seattle 3-0 in the first leg of the West Semifinals -- and held on for a 3-2 win on aggregate.
“You could look at that and be really disappointed and feel like if we go there with a three-goal lead, it's going to be an easier affair,” Kreis said. “Or we can look at that and say, 'You know what? We've just challenged ourselves a little bit more.'”
RSL’s Robbie Findley scored a goal and added an assist in the first leg win vs. Portland – his first goal since Aug. 17. Chris Schuler scored a goal for a second consecutive match, one of four players in the MLS Cup Playoffs this year with goals in back-to-back games (also, Aurelien Collin [KC], Omar Cummings [HOU], Will Johnson [POR]).
“We know they're going to come out firing,” said Findley. “They're going to be pressing, so we've got to be ready for that. I think at some point in the game ... we'll get opportunities there. It's a matter of putting them away again.”
Real have scored 13 goals in the five meetings in all competitions between the teams this season. “I think that we both play a similar style. There's been much made of that, and I think it's true," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "I think we both want to set the tempo of the match. I think we both want to press. I think we both want to be aggressive in our play. And that opens up space to counterattack into.”
Since the end of August, Real have had three breaks of at least 11 days between matches -- and did not score a goal in the match following, with a draw and a pair of losses. It will be 14 days between legs of the West final.
- “It is what it is,” Kreis said, “so we'll just do our best. They've got a two-week break as well and so we'll probably both be dealing with a little bit of rustiness in the match.”
REFEREE: Mark Geiger.
AR1 (bench): Sean Hurd; AR2 (opposite): Corey Parker;
4th: Jair Marrufo
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 JELD-WEN FIELD:
8/21: POR 3, RSL 3 (Wallace 24; Valeri 57; Alhassan 86 -- Borchers 38; Morales 43; Grossman 93+)
10/19: POR 0, RSL 0
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS: RSL 1 win, 4 GF … POR 0 wins, 2 goals … Ties 0