PORTLAND, Ore. – In the Portland Timbers’ first meeting this season against Real Salt Lake, they lost 2-1 in a semifinal game of the US Open Cup.
But the only thing the Timbers appear ready to change about that matchup is the final score. At the very least, Portland appear to be very confident heading into Wednesday’s rematch against RSL at JELD-WEN Field (11 pm ET, MLS Live), the first of three MLS meetings between the two Western Conference playoff contenders.
“If you look back, and I said it after the game, if we finish our chances it’s a different game,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “It very easily could have been 2-1 the other way, and if we play the same way I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Portland did indeed squander a number of opportunities around the goal in that game just two weeks ago. They outshot RSL and dominated possession to the tune of nearly 60 percent.
It took one set piece goal and another, in spectacular fashion, from the unheralded Joao Plata to down the Timbers.
“In Salt Lake, we went out and we attacked and pressed and got on the ball,” Porter said. “Obviously that shows in the trends of the match, with the possession we had and with the shots we had.”
And there’s no reason to expect anything different this time around.
Portland have displayed an ability to exploit the flanks of teams using a 4-4-2 diamond formation, as RSL usually do. But Salt Lake have gone to a 4-3-3 formation in recent games, leading Porter to prepare for both.
“We saw we had a lot of success when we went out wide against Dallas in that 4-4-2, even against Salt Lake at their place, so just now there will be a lot of space and get our fullbacks up,” Timbers forward Darlington Nagbe said.
Regardless of how the teams come out tactically, Portland has other reasons to be confident, considering they’ll be playing on their home pitch, where they have amassed a 7-1-3 record this season. RSL, meanwhile, will be without captain Kyle Beckerman due to yellow-card accumulation.
And Portland’s famously raucous crowd, which has been dying for a game with these kinds of implications since the Timbers joined MLS, will of course be providing the incentive.
“If anything at home, we’re just a notch more aggressive and proactive [at home]; I think that’s because you have the energy and the crowd and psychologically that gives you a bit more lift,” Porter said. “And I’ve seen that with this crowd. We’ve built a fortress at home, and we’ve been really difficult to beat. I think the guys have an aura, a bit of a swagger, especially when they’re at home.”
Regardless of how it plays out, with the Timbers just three points behind first-place RSL, the game will certainly provide a postseason-like atmosphere. And Portland need do just one thing.
“We just have to put our chances away,” Nagbe said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.