Saturday night, the Portland Timbers play their fourth match of the season, at home against Real Salt Lake. In many ways, this is a mirror match-up, featuring two teams that started strong, and that are both coming off of disappointing losses to teams that they should have beaten.
The Timbers are 1-1-1 after taking only 1 point from their 2-game road trip to Dallas and New England. We started with a great home opener (isn’t it always?), and you could argue that the draw in Dallas was an even better result, since it was such an improvement on the corresponding match last season, a 4-0 defeat. But the loss at New England, arguably the worst team in MLS, along with injuries to Hanyer Mosquera and Kalif Alhassan, was about as close to a disaster as a road game can be.
RSL stands at 2-1-0, and leads the Timbers by 2 points in the overall Western Conference standings. They had the best imaginable start, beating the reigning MLS champion LA Galaxy in their own house and following it up with a shutout win at home over Thierry Henry and New York. Like us, they came crashing back to Earth last week with a 1-0 loss to Chivas USA. When I said that New England is arguably the worst team in the league, I should have specified that the main team arguing with them for that dubious honor is Chivas.
Each team has a big advantage in this one. On our side, we have our 12th man and the most intimidating atmosphere in MLS. 20,000 screaming Timbers fans will be that much louder and hungrier after a loss. We also have a so-far unbeaten record against RSL in the league, beating them 1-0 here last season and drawing 1-1 in Salt Lake. On their side, RSL has the injury situation. We are missing no fewer than six players (Danso, Johnson, Mosquera, Horst, Zizzo, and Kalif) and are particularly light once again at center back, where we will continue to rely much earlier on Andrew Jean-Baptiste than we ever planned to do.
This is a game that will really hurt the loser. An early-season losing streak in the very talented West puts you in a hole. For RSL, a loss means that last week wasn’t just an aberration in an otherwise sunny start. For the Timbers, it would mean that we can’t depend on the kind of start at home we had last season, when we went 5-1 in our first two months at home. It will mean handing back three points that we took last season, to go along with the one point we took last year at New England.
As worrying as the injury situation is, I think we take this one. I’m predicting a 2-1 scoreline with goals coming from Boyd and Perlaza. Our new Scotsman had a really poor game in New England, but I think it was an off day rather than a show of form, and I really do think he’ll keep his scoring record perfect at Jeld-Wen Field for at least one more match. RCTID.