SANDY, Utah – The Portland Timbers have given up three or more goals on just five occasions this season, and three of those were at the hands of Real Salt Lake, the most recent – and important – arriving in RSL's 4-2 win in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship on Sunday night.
Is there something about the matchup between the two teams that accounts for Salt Lake's ability to score multiple goals on Portland when so many other teams cannot?
“I don't think so,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis after his team's impressive victory. “I think that we both play a similar style. There's been much made of that, and I think it's true. I think we both want to set the tempo of the match. I think we both want to press. I think we both want to be aggressive in our play. And that opens up space to counterattack into.”
RSL have found ways to rip open Portland's normally-sturdy defense, and RSL forward Robbie Findley, who scored one goal and assisted on another on Sunday night, pointed out that Portland have done their share of scoring against his team this season, too.
The scores of their five matches have been 2-1, 4-2, 3-3, 0-0 and 4-2, the only aberration a tense, 0-0 tie in Portland on Oct. 19 that essentially gave the Western Conference regular-season title to the Timbers. And even that score line was "atypical," as Kreis put it.
“A lot of the times it's open,” Findley told reporters. “It's back and forth. I think there's times when we have to be better disciplined. Just get behind the ball and defend for a little bit.”
RSL midfielder Javier Morales said he respects Portland because, unlike teams that come to Rio Tinto Stadium and bunker in, “They come here and they want to play. They are aggressive like us, so the game is very open.”
Despite his team's two-goal lead going into the second leg in Portland on Nov. 24, Kreis sounds like he has no intention of bunkering in like he did in a wild Western Conference Semifinal second leg in Seattle two years ago, when the Utah club escaped with a 3-2 aggregate victory.
RSL will play their aggressive style, and hope things turn out half as well as they did on Sunday.
“There's going to be some nights where our guys are going to finish opportunities, and there's going to be some nights when we don't,” he said.