MLS Fantasy: Should owners drop Portland Timbers players ahead of 2nd leg vs. Real Salt Lake?

With the MLS Cup Playoffs' Conference Championship second-leg matches set for a little more than a week from now, fantasy owners have already started making their final transfers. And the results are startling.

The Portland Timbers got out to a dream start in the first leg at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah. Captain and former Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson netted a vicious set-piece goal past Nick Rimando to put the visitors up 1-0. But with little to show at the offensive end after that, other than a stoppage-time header from subsitute Frederic Piquionne, RSL racked up goal after goal.

With a 4-2 lead heading into the away leg, RSL are in a prime position to be crowned Western Conference Champions and fight for a shot at winning their second MLS Cup title in the last five seasons.

Both of these teams have proved capable of scoring goals and earning shutouts during 2013, but when they face each other there's a lot more goals than there are clean sheets.

In four meetings dating back to August, 18 goals have been scored between the two teams and only once have there been less than six goals scored in a match: a 0-0 draw in October at Portland.

Top Transfers Out - (POR vs RSL)

  Player Position Selected Price Total Score Transfers Out
Real Salt Lake Alvaro Saborio FWD 5.4% $9.6 98 149
Portland Timbers Diego Valeri MID 19.8% $8.0 176 103
Portland Timbers Donovan Ricketts GKP 14.9% $5.5 171 103
Portland Timbers Michael Harrington DEF 7.7% $4.8 151 98
Portland Timbers Ryan Johnson FWD 15.3% $7.9 117 95
Portland Timbers Rodney Wallace DEF 20.0% $5.6 178 80
Portland Timbers Darlington Nagbe MID 12.9% $8.0 167 54
Portland Timbers Futty Danso DEF 3.9% $4.2 102 51

Alvaro Saborio sat out the first leg with a pulled muscle although his status for the second leg hasn't yet officially been confirmed. Regardless, this still makes dropping the Costa Rican striker somewhat justifiable. But as far as the other seven players are concerned, why give them the axe now?

If the return leg is in front of their home crowd, spirited by the passion, enthusiasm and support of the Timbers Army, then why not bring them in to your team? Do people really believe RSL will come into JELD-WEN Field and walk all over the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference? I don't think so.

OK, maybe Jason Kreis tries to pack it in and play conservative for the most of the game. Doesn't this at least benefit Portland's defensive unit? After all, the last result these two teams had when they played in front of Timbers fans back on October 19 ended in a 0-0 draw (without Johnson), and that was just one of Portland's league-leading 11 shutouts at home. The only other team to reach double-digits this season was LA with 10.

Then go back to their meeting at JELD-WEN before that on August 21: three goals scored, including one by Diego Valeri and another for Rodney Wallace. No love for their offense either? Portland players have created 181 total chances (21 big chances) on goal at home - an average of 10.6 per game (1.2 big chances). Their 21 big chances created isn't great, but it puts them just above the league average of 19.8.

RSL has earned a clean sheet in 30 percent of its games on the road in 2013 - tied for second best among all teams. This isn't great news for the Timbers, however at home this season they've been held scoreless just twice. In addition their offense has thrived, hammering in at least two goals per game more than half of the time (53 percent).

I'm not quite sure what to think of people transferring out Portland's attacking and defensive core with a home leg still left to play. The Timbers are going to score or they're going to get a clean sheet. The facts support it.

Portland - 2013 MLS Regular Season (at JELD-WEN)

  • Games Played: 17
  • Record: 11-1-5
  • Clean Sheets: 11
  • Goals Scored: 29
  • Goals Conceded: 11
  • No. of games they've scored in: 15

It's one or the other people. Or both. But there's almost no way – an 11.7 percent chance, based on this season's results – that  the Timbers concede defensively and get shutout at the attacking end, too.