After a frustrating letdown at New England, the Portland Timbers return home Saturday to face one the premier teams over the last two Major League Soccer seasons, Real Salt Lake (Mar. 31, 7:00 p.m. PT ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM). The visitors, however, will be similarly motivated to do better this week than last: after quality wins over LA and New York that saw them crowned the best team in MLS by many pundits, RSL were undone by a frustrating day and a bad moment in a 1-0 loss to Chivas USA last Saturday.
That’s the first theme I see going into this game with both teams pretty ticked off by their results last weekend. The question is how much will that factor in Saturday’s game? You know the Timbers’ side of the story: undone by a goal 28 seconds in by the Revolution though RSLwere left shaking their heads just as much last weekend. Playing in front of the 4th biggest crowd ever at their home stadium, controlling 61 percent of the possession, doubling up their opponents in shots, seeing a goal disallowed early and a shot come off the bar late; it was a rare mistake by goalkeeper Nick Rimando that allowed for the game’s only goal.
We always hear from athletes the mantra of having a short memory, of quickly moving past a bad moment, or bad game, to the next one. RSL captain Kyle Beckerman echoed as much on this week’s Talk Timbers radio show. However, maybe the question isn’t who is more motivated in defeat, but who’s worked harder during the week and is more determined during the 90 minutes to show last week’s final score was a fluke?
Building Back To Full Strength
Amongst the usual nuggets I find in my research on a team, I was particularly struck by this from Real Salt Lake: they have a core of NINE regular starters who have been playing together for five years now, more-or-less an MLS record. Imagine that, in a league with such movement: GK Nick Rimando, LB Chris Wingert, RB Tony Beltran, CBs Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave, LM Will Johnson, DCM Kyle Beckerman, ACM Javier Morales, and F Fabian Espindola have all been on this roster at least four previous years.
That kind of consistency is a rare feat in Major League Soccer, though RSL have yet to truly experience it this year. Borchers, Morales, Johnson, and forward Alvaro Saborío are all coming back from offseason surgeries/injuries and are being eased back into the lineup. Early indications are Borchers might make his first start of the year in Portland with perhaps Saborio and Morales following suit. At the same time, 2010 MLS Defender of the Year Jamison Olave, according to reports, might be left behind so as to not aggravate a troublesome knee on the JELD-WEN Field turf.
So with some key pieces missing, they’ve struggled to plug the gaps, right? Not quite: 18-year-old Luis Gil has filled in admirably for Morales at the top of their midfield diamond, third-year man Chris Schuler has held down the fort for Borchers in the back, and rookie sensation Sebastian Velasquez—the second-ever player drafted into MLS from a junior college—became the first rookie ever awarded an opening day start by coach Jason Kreis. Calling upon their depth against champions LA Galaxy and high-priced New York Red Bulls, RSL haven’t really missed a beat.
Struggles On The Road
Nope, this isn’t a leftover paragraph from a Timbers’ preview at New England last week, it’s about RSL. Despite their challenging for recent Supporters’ Shields, and amassing a multi-year unbeaten run at home, this is still a team that’s very much struggled on the road in their history. Now in their eighth year, RSL is 20-63-27 away from home, and even though their five away wins last year were a team record, they still only had the fifth best away record in the Western Conference.
Oh, and there’s this: on the road, in front of 20,000 or more fans, their all-time record is 1-10-6. Saturday’s expected attendance? A sold-out 20,438.