Each Major League Soccer matchday in 2021, the KeyBank Scouting Report will gives a snapshot of the Portland Timbers’ next opponent. Following a massive Thanksgiving Day Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal victory over the Colorado Rapids, the Portland Timbers now play host to Real Salt Lake at Providence Park in the Western Conference Final (3:30pm PT, TICKETS, FS1).
How They Got Here
Real Salt Lake have been dubbed the Cinderella team of this year's playoffs, and with good reason.
As the seventh and final seed in the Western Conference, it took an MLS Decision Day, stoppage-time game-winning goal from Damir Kreilach to vault the Claret-and-Cobalt into the postseason. Once there, they faced off against second seeded Seattle Sounders FC in Round One, went a full 90 and another 30 minutes of extra time without a single attempted shot, and somehow outlasted the Sounders on the road to win on penalties 6-5. Following that, they went on the road again, this time to face Sporting Kansas City. Down a goal at the half, RSL came back to score a game-winner in stoppage time – this time from Bobby Wood – to win 2-1.
Now they find themselves in Portland. The Timbers were 3-0-0 in the regular season against Real Salt Lake who ended the 2021 campaign with a 14-14-6 overall record on 48 points, good for seventh place.
Interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni has led the team since midseason following the departure of former head coach Freddy Juarez to Seattle.
The Matchup | Zivin and Ridgewell with a look into #PORvRSL in the Western Conference Final
The tip of the spear for RSL's attack is Croatian forward Damir Kreilach who scored a career-high 16 goals in 2021 – best on the team and tied for third in the league. The striker also tossed in nine assists for good measure.
Also of note is Designated Player Albert Rusnák who was second on the team with 11 goals and a tied for a team-best 11 assists. The creative midfielder was held out of both of the team's playoff matches due to a positive COVID test at the outset.
Beaverton native Rubio Rubín has eight goals and five assists while Anderson Julio also has eight goals on the season. Often coming off the bench, winger Justin Meram scored two goals to go along with five assists while former U.S. international Bobby Wood has two goals and an assist in the regular season. All told, RSL's 55 goals scored in the 2021 regular season were second in the Western Conference.
Often employing a three back set up in the regular season, Salt Lake has gone to a more traditional four defender lineup in the playoffs, allowing only one goal – a penalty scored by KC – across 210 playoffs minutes.
Centerback Justen Glad started 31 games in the middle of the backline in 2021 and was the hero in the shootout with Seattle scoring in the sixth frame for the win. Fellow Homegrown defender Aaron Herrera made 29 starts on the outside while also tying for the team lead in assists with Rusnák with 11 helpers.
In goal, feisty 'keeper David Ochoa made 29 appearances in the regular season, picking up five clean sheets. Ochoa also made RSL's game-saving penalty kick stop against the Sounders.
Notably, defensive midfielder Everton Luiz will miss this game in Portland due to yellow card accumulation.