KeyBank Scouting Report (MLS Cup Playoff Edition): Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake - Nov. 24, 2013

KBSR vs. RSL, Kyle Beckerman, 8.6.13

Back on home turf at JELD-WEN Field on Sunday, the Portland Timbers have one last chance to reach the MLS Cup Final, if they can get past Real Salt Lake (6pm PT, ESPN / 750 The Game).

RSL hold the advantage in the Western Conference Final after claiming a 4-2 win in the first leg, although it’s all to play for as Caleb Porter’s team aim to reach the season’s main event.

Spirited by numerous comebacks during the regular season, Porter believes that his men can turn their fortunes around and playing at home could help their efforts.

What happened in the first leg?
The Timbers may have opened and closed the scoring in Rio Tinto Stadium two weeks ago, but the four goals that they conceded in between swung the momentum over to RSL. After Will Johnson put them ahead on 14 minutes, the hosts hit back through Chris Schuler, Robbie Findley, Devon Sandoval and Javier Morales, before Frederic Piquionne pulled one back in second half stoppage time.

As expected for a team playing at home, RSL dominated in a lot of areas and showed just how good they can be with 74 per cent accuracy from 343 passes, while they hit the target eight times with shots. However, the Timbers will know that a couple of mistakes on their own part led to RSL scoring, and that is something Caleb Porter's squad will have already addressed going into the second leg.

What should the Timbers expect?
It is safe to assume that Jason Kreis’ team will look to produce more of the same from the first leg. And what that means is a high-tempo game that sees them set up with a midfield diamond, where Kyle Beckerman provides the cover and Javier Morales is the playmaker. But the real strength in this team is how they support each other with their positioning, supporting runs and closing of space all over the pitch.

The Timbers will have learned all about their threat from set-pieces, where Morales can be deadly accurate, while the long-range shooting of Luis Gil is something they need to keep in mind too. However, the key to stopping RSL is by applying pressure and disrupting their gameplan. If afforded space to roam and the possession to use, then they will wreak havoc. But if pushed onto the back foot, then they become quite vulnerable.

Will RSL change their approach?
The big dilemma facing Kreis is who to start up front? In the first leg, Sandoval was excellent throughout, while Findley worked hard off the ball and chipped in with a goal. With Alvaro Saborio still ruled out for the second leg, Kreis also has Joao Plata at his disposal who came off the bench in the first leg to add some speed and pace. Whoever Kreis chooses, the Timbers defense will stay focused and look to prevent them from creating chances.

The only other change might come in midfield, where Ned Grabavoy’s defensive qualities may see him replace Sebastian Velasquez. But don’t expect RSL to simply sit back and protect their first-leg lead; this team doesn’t will push hard. So the Timbers will be prepared for their usual approach, which can be incredibly difficult to deal with once they get their passing rhythm and set-piece accuracy going. At this point, with five games between the two of them throughout the 2013 regular season, U.S. Open Cup and playoffs, both teams know each other very well. It should make for an exciting match.