Real Salt Lake starts the Western Conference Final Sunday against the Portland Timbers amidst a lot of uncertainty.
Jason Kreis’ men will host the Timbers on Sunday and then get two weeks to practice before playing the second leg at Jeld-Wen Field. This article will look at the positive and negative signs for Real Salt Lake in this series.
Results This Season: Real Salt Lake played well against the Timbers this season, winning both home games and drawing both road matches. All four of those matches have happened since August 1.
Experience: Real Salt Lake started seven players from its 2009 MLS Cup winning squad in the second leg against Los Angeles (Ned Grabavoy would have been the eighth if he wasn’t injured). The Timbers have Will Johnson and Donovan Ricketts, but that is it.
Coaching: Caleb Porter is a good coach, but he isn’t at the level of Jason Kreis. Porter is in his first season, while Kreis has been to four Conference Finals in the last six seasons.
Motivation: Portland has over-achieved this season. If Porter’s group loses in the Conference Final, this season will be deemed a success. If Salt Lake loses this series, the question of success or failure is much less clear. Winning a trophy is always a goal with this group, but this is also a “rebuilding” year for Salt Lake.
Home Field: Real Salt Lake doesn’t have home field advantage in this series, but historically the side is better when it doesn’t have it. In fact, Jason Kreis’ men have never lost a series when they didn’t have home field advantage. It is counter-intuitive, but the history says this is a good sign.
Injuries: Alvaro Saborio and Ned Grabavoy each have knocks of one level or another. Kreis said Saturday that Saborio is out for Sunday’s match, though Grabavoy appears ready to go. Salt Lake needs its best offense available for this clash as the side really needs a win Sunday. That means the goals will have to come from someone other than the Costa Rican International.
Expectations: As I’ve written before, Salt Lake is great as an underdog and poor as a favorite. In this series, they will either be a favorite or a much smaller underdog than in the previous series. Historically, that bodes poorly for the Claret and Cobalt.
I said before the last series that the winner of Real Salt Lake v. L.A. Galaxy would win the Western Conference playoffs. Nothing has happened that would change my mind. I think Real Salt Lake continues its dominance over the Portland Timbers, winning the first leg by 2 goals and drawing the second one on the road.
Aggregate: Real Salt Lake Wins 3 – 1
I’m picking the Houston Dynamo to win the East, which means Salt Lake would host MLS Cup on December 7.