BEAVERTON, Ore. – If there is one thing that Caleb Porter doesn’t want the Portland Timbers to become, it is predictable. And that is why he intends to keep Real Salt Lake guessing this week.
As the teams prepare to face off at JELD-WEN Field on Wednesday night (8pm PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940) in the first meeting since the Timbers fell just short in their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal, the focus this time around is on the tactical approach from both teams.
In recent games, RSL stepped away from their traditional diamond midfield to a 4-3-3 set-up and that could make this an intriguing contest.
“Obviously, the first time that we played them, we shaped and twisted our team and the plan that we had, but it will be a bit different in this game and that is just me making sure that Real Salt Lake doesn’t think we’ll just play the same way,” said Porter.
“Width is very important. If they are playing a diamond [midfield], there are gaps out wide and if we can get both outside backs forward then we’re creating 2v1’s. But we have to make sure there is a real balance to how we play. I think with Real Salt Lake, they encourage you to get the backs forward and they roast you on the counter, so it’s something to work on.”
Using the flanks has become a direct route to goal for the Timbers of late with Jamaican youngster Alvas Powell excelling on the right side with his link-up play with Darlington Nagbe and overlapping runs.
It is a chemistry that still needs a few more elements added to it, but Nagbe said that he has already struck up a good understanding with his teammate and knows that playing in wide areas can help them get in behind the opposition.
“I thought we had a lot of success when we were out wide against Dallas when they played in a 4-4-2, so when we play RSL at home we’ll go out wide as there is a lot of space out there and get our full backs up,” said Nagbe.
“Alvas [Powell] showed that he is athletic enough to get up and down the field. If we can just maintain the ball and find the outside backs with good timing, I feel we’ll get good chances.”
Another factor that the Timbers are hoping to use in their favor is the atmosphere created inside JELD-WEN Field with Porter describing it as a “fortress” and crucial to helping the team to play with confidence.
“If anything, at home we’re a notch more aggressive and proactive and I think that’s because you have the energy of the crowd and psychologically it gives you a bit more of a lift – I’ve seen that with this crowd. We’ve built a fortress at home and we’ve been really difficult to beat,” said Porter.
The numbers back Porter up. Overall, the Timbers are 7-1-3 in MLS play at JELD-WEN Field in 2013 and 11-1-3 at home across all competitions this season--among the best records in the league.
For Nagbe, collecting maximum points from their remaining home games, where they have scored 19 goals so far this season, can be the key to propelling them towards the postseason with every game now so vital.
“It’s real important. We have six more games at home, I think, so if we can get wins in all of those games we’ll put ourselves in a good position to make the playoffs,” said Nagbe.