Portland Timbers hoping to change their fortune against Real Salt Lake in big Western battle

Caleb Porter, Portland Timbers (Sept. 29, 2013)

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PORTLAND, Ore. – As much as any team in MLS, Real Salt Lake seem to have the Portland Timbers’ number. They're the only squad to have beaten Portland twice, racking up two wins and a draw in three outings.

To put that into perspective: Portland have just two other losses against the rest of the Western Conference, racking up a 10-2-9 against the rest of the West.

Now, with the Timbers set to face RSL for the fourth time this year on Saturday at JELD-WEN Field (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live), a first win against them would mean locking up their first-ever playoff spot, a firm grasp on the top of the table and a legitimate shot at the Supporters’ Shield.

Safe to say, the Timers have some unfinished business to attend to.

“Obviously, going into the playoffs, if you can put a marker down on a team, great,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “But more important than anything else is three points.”

So what is it about RSL that has left Portland wanting more?

“I think we’ve been good against them, we’ve made individual mistakes and that’s what’s cost us games against them,” goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts said. “But I think we match up pretty good against them. I think we match up pretty good against them once we play our style.”

At the very least, there seems no reason not to expect another wide-open affair between the two pressing sides that have combined to score 15 goals in three meetings. Timbers players this week have stressed the importance of notching the first goal; they are 11-0-6 in games in which they’ve struck first. Since their 4-2 loss to RSL, which also happens to be their last loss overall, they’ve done that in each of their games, resulting in four wins and two ties. 

“I also think our home games, when we get in front of our fans and get that goal, it boosts us another notch,” said Timbers captain Will Johnson, who played five seasons in Salt Lake before coming to the Rose City this year. “You come out for warm ups and everybody is flying and as soon as you get that first goal everyone elevates and they stay elevated, so I think that’s another big reason why we’re so successful when we get that first goal.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Portland are playing their “best soccer right now,” according to Porter and are relatively healthy aside from the questionable status of midfielder Diego Valeri, who is suffering from an adductor strain.

“I think good teams do peak this time of year; they turn it up a notch,” Porter said. “Whether that’s by design or because you smell a bit of the blood in the water and you know it’s important at this time of year to turn it up. … We’re peaking at the right time and we’re confident right now, and that’s what you want.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.