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MLS Preview: Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers

Aug 29, 2013, 3:20 PM EST

Before becoming the head coach of the Portland Timbers in 2013, Caleb Porter amassed a record of 119 wins, 18 losses, 17 ties, and one national championship in seven years at University of Akron. (Photo: Getty Images.) Getty Images

• Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers have met twice in August so far, having not faced one another previously in 2013. RSL won the U.S. Open Cup semifinal 2-1 in Utah on Aug. 7, and the teams tied 3-3 on Aug. 21 in Portland.

• RSL head coach Jason Kreis and Timbers head coach Caleb Porter are two frontrunners for the Major League Soccer Coach of the Year award, thanks to RSL’s push for the Supporters’ Shield despite injuries and Portland’s turnaround from a poor 2012 season.

• Portland sits in fourth place in the Western Conference standings, although it has two games in hand on RSL, which is on top of both the conference and the league standings, having played the highest number of games in the league so far.

The Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake kick off this weekend’s MLS play (Friday, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN), renewing a familiarity cultivated twice this month already. Both the U.S. Open Cup semifinal and the league match at JELD-WEN Field were entertaining matches, and Friday’s encounter at Rio Tinto should be the same.

Both teams play attractive, free-flowing soccer, so it’s no coincidence that head coaches Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter (pictured) are two of the most popular choices for MLS Coach of the Year at this point. Despite losing multiple players to injury and international duty, both have sustained pushes toward the top of the table all season.

On Friday, RSL could be missing forward Alvaro Saborío, who is questionable with a calf strain (see Kreis’ quote below). On the other side of the field, the Timbers get Diego Chará back from suspension, but midfielders Jack Jewsbury, Will Johnson and Ben Zemanski are all listed as out on the injury report.

Salt Lake also comes off a week in which it played three matches (two on the road), losing to the Los Angeles Galaxy before tying Portland and defeating the Columbus Crew. The five days between matches will have provided somewhat of an opportunity to regroup — or at least more than the team got in the previous week.

Portland played three times in eight days during the same period, also winning, losing and tying one each: the Timbers defeated FC Dallas, tied RSL and lost to Seattle Sounders FC in a heated Cascadia Cup matchup.

What they’re saying

Timbers head coach Caleb Porter breaks down his team’s luck on set pieces: “I was just looking at the stats this morning because I’m always reflecting on how we can be better. We’ve given up 26 goals, which stacks us up pretty well. Fourteen of the 26 are restart situations. Four of the 14 are PKs, so you kind of wash those out, which means 10. Of those 10, two are free kicks over the wall, so obviously that’s not marking or anything. One is a long throw-in, which to some extent is box defending. And then we have two corners and five free kicks wide. So really, you’re looking at eight moments — eight situations — in 25 games where we’ve gotten beat with poor marking.”

RSL head coach Jason Kreis on striker Alvaro Saborío’s injury: “We were really hopeful it would be a short-term injury. We’re hopeful that he’ll be available for Friday. I think, right now, it’s 50-50 still.”

RSL defender Nat Borchers, in the locker room after 4-0 win over Columbus Crew, on the short turnaround in games: “I feel pretty good right now. I think that when you keep the ball like we did tonight, there’s less running for us in the back because there’s less opportunity for them to counter. Every time they counter, it’s an 80-yard sprint to goal. We didn’t have to do that much tonight.”

Prediction

The fact that these teams have two of the best coaches in the league should come out on Friday. Both teams will be tired from a long previous week, missing multiple players through injury (perhaps Portland more than RSL) and in need of points to keep pace at the top. It should be another thrilling encounter with multiple scoring opportunities at both ends. Another high-scoring draw is not out of question, but Real Salt Lake rarely does anything but win at home.

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