The Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye this season. Way back in March, the Timbers were flying through a 2-1 lead powered a spectacular two-goal performance from Darlington Nagbe only to lose 3-2 via a late game winner from U.S. international and RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
In July, the Timbers went high into the altitude at Rio Tinto Stadium and fell 3-0 which was the last match prior to the change in head coaches.
Now Portland returns to Utah on Saturday night but with a particularly energized Nagbe helping lead the way (5pm PT NBC Sports, 101.1 FM XL Radio / La Pantera 940). Already named to the MLSsoccer.com 24 Under 24 list as well as featured in an upcoming NBC Sports MLS 36 episode, Nagbe has been more involved in the attack across the last six weeks. While in March Nagbe had displayed flashes of brilliance with his brace, he has, of late, shown more consistency in how he plays.
Come Saturday night, however, he’ll be in the midfield with one of the finest defensive mids in the league in Kyle Beckerman. Regardless of whether Nagbe moves back into the central mid position he flourished in under the 4-3-3 formation or if uses his ability out wide to slice inside as he did Wednesday against San Jose in a 4-4-2, he’ll have to get through Beckerman to get to goal. And that challenge brings us to the KeyBank Match-up.
WATCH: Nagbe blows past Beckerman
Going back to that March game at JELD-WEN Field, Nagbe’s second goal against a goal against RSL in March showed pure audaciousness and could be a candidate for Goal of the Year. But it was his first goal that put him on Beckerman’s radar. With nothing but a quick touch and a flash of speed, Nagbe blew past Beckerman—a player Timbers soccer analyst Robbie Earle says in the clip is “one of the best in the league”—and goes straight to goal. It was the first glimpse of Nagbe’s Year Two progression as a a breakout player.
WATCH: Beckerman's blast in March
But Earle is right. Beckerman is one of the best players in the league and he showed why with a backbreaking game winning goal in that same match. A true field general, Beckerman plugs holes, effortlessly redistributes the ball and has a tremendous work rate. For a team that relies heavily on a possession-oriented offense with that, to alter a phrase, brings goals from a thousand passes, Beckerman is the fulcrum from which the offense revolves. Yes, he’s a d-mid, but he’s no stranger to getting into attack when the time is right.
For Nagbe and the Timbers to break through, they’ll rely on their speed be it with Franck Songo’o, Sal Zizzo or Rodney Wallace in the midfield with Nagbe to move quickly and directly at Beckerman and their physical backline. Should Nagbe be able to maintain his current form and confident movement into the attacking third, then the Timbers chances of sneaking out of the Rio Tinto with their first road win of 2012 may just become a reality.