What To Know Ahead Of Real Salt Lake’s Western Conference Final Clash With Portland
SALT LAKE CITY – Real Salt Lake is 90 minutes away from competing in the MLS Cup Final. However, if Real Salt Lake intends on surviving the Western Conference Final, they will need to beat the Portland Timbers for the first time in 2021.
Portland has beaten Real Salt Lake on three occasions already in 2021.
Fortunately, Real Salt Lake could care less about the recent history between the two clubs. Real Salt Lake is in the Western Conference Final purely because they refuse to accept the national narrative surrounding them. Real Salt Lake believes from within and does not rely on affirmation from the outside.
Prior to the regular season commencing Real Salt Lake was pegged to finish the 2021 MLS season with one of the worst records in the league. They are one of just four teams remaining in the playoffs.
It has been nothing short of a remarkable playoff run. Real Salt Lake has no ownership, they have an interim at the helm, and have been unable to spend significant money on players since the summer of 2020.
The Real Salt Lake story is a real-life example of the power and influence of belief.
Real Salt Lake believes.
Every interview given by the players references the importance of belief. The fighting mentality and strength of the group are a direct reflection of who interim manager Pablo Mastroeni is and the culture that he has developed in such a short amount of time.
Starting XI Changes
Against Seattle and Sporting Kansas City, Mastroeni has stayed true to the same starting XI. However, ahead of the clash against Portland, he will be forced to make at least one change.
Everton Luiz, who has played a pivotal role as the holding midfielder, is unavailable for selection due to yellow card accumulation. Fortunately, captain Albert Rusnák will return for his first playoff match following a bout with COVID-19.
Portland manager Giovanni Savarese will also be forced into some changes prior to the game.
Dairon Asprilla is unavailable after he was shown a red card in the 94th minute of their 1-0 victory over Colorado Rapids. While Sebastián Blanco is dealing with left thigh injury that has him listed as questionable. Savarese mentioned earlier in the week that Blanco will not be able to go against Real Salt Lake and is questionable for the MLS Cup Final if they qualify for it on December 11.
Asprilla is responsible for 10 goals and 3 assists through 34 appearances in 2021 while Blanco has contributed 7 goals and 7 assists. Asprilla and Blanco are only behind teammate Felipe Mora who has starred with 11 goals and 5 assists this season.
It has been 345 minutes since Real Salt Lake conceded a goal in the open play. Ironically, it was Blanco in the 45th minute on November 3rd when Real Salt Lake lost 3-1 in the final regular-season home game when Real Salt Lake last conceded in the open play.
The 4-2-3-1 formation has been a defensive force for Real Salt Lake. Opposing teams are having a very difficult time penetrating the backline of Real Salt Lake much to their frustration.
Even against Seattle in the opening round of the playoffs, the Sounders generated 21 shots all of which were comfortably dealt with by David Ochoa and the Real Salt Lake defense.
The Timbers are a team that has historically made the most of their opportunities in front of goal. On August 7, Portland beat Real Salt Lake 3-2 at Providence Park. Real Salt Lake played that game in the 4-2-3-1 formation. However, the 3-2 final scoreline does not tell the true story of the game. Real Salt Lake out-shot Portland 23 to 13, controlled 65% of the possession, and really controlled the entire tempo and speed of the game.
Portland made the most of their opportunities, however.
Real Salt Lake Success Key
Real Salt Lake must limit the turnovers if they hope to contend for the MLS Cup. Portland will beat Real Salt Lake if they can transition into their counter-attack effectively.
If Real Salt Lake stops and limits the counter-attack of Portland, they should hold the advantage.
Real Salt Lake will look to slow the game down as they have done throughout the previous two playoff fixtures. It will likely be a methodical approach taken by the visitors. Obviously, the opening quarter of an hour will be pivotal for Real Salt Lake as they look to build confidence and frustrate the Portland faithful.
The biggest question mark entering the contest revolves around the loss of Luiz.
Who will Mastroeni trust to fill the void of Luiz? Either Nick Besler will come off the bench in a like-for-like swap with Luiz, or, Damir Kreilach drops into the eight position shifting Pablo Ruiz into the six and allowing Rusnák to roam in his preferred 10 role.
Real Salt Lake will travel to Portland for the Western Conference Final this upcoming Saturday, December 4th, with kickoff scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
The fixture will be broadcast via FS1 or on Fox Deportes.