SANDY, Utah – With a 4-2 lead heading into the second leg of the Western Conference Championship of the MLS Cup Playoffs, all Real Salt Lake have to do is keep Portland from scoring more than once.
“First and foremost, it's about a defense,” said Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran. “If we get a shutout, we advance. If we give up one goal, we advance.”
But the Claret-and-Cobalt have no intention of playing defensive soccer when they take on the Timbers on Sunday night at JELD-WEN Field (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes).
“We know when we sit back and defend the whole game, we don't play very well and the results don't go our way,” said RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. “We need to play our style, make good decisions when we want to press and get everybody back and possess the ball in the midfield as much as we can. If we have the ball, they're not going to score.”
Scoring hasn't been a big problem for either team when they’ve faced off this season. There was a scoreless tie in Portland on Oct. 19, but the other four meetings between the two teams have been offensive affairs. RSL won 2-1 in Utah (in a US Open Cup semifinal on Aug. 7); the two sides tied 3-3 in Portland on Aug. 21; and RSL won two 4-2 home decisions, first on Aug. 30 and then in the first leg of the Conference Championship last Sunday. In those five matches, RSL have averaged 2.6 goals to 1.6 goals for the Timbers.
“For me, it mostly comes down to two teams that want to play,” said Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis. “And two teams that want to attack. And two teams that want to dictate the flow. And two teams that are aggressive. And anytime you do that, you open up some space to play in behind. That's why there's been lots of goals scored between us.”
Given that his team is unbeaten against Portland this season, it's no surprise that Kreis has no intention of changing things up on Sunday.
“We've never approached playing Portland – or anybody, for that matter – with a complete defensive mindset,” he said, “and we won't be doing it this weekend, either.”
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The coach and his players all talked about the need to be “aggressive” on Sunday. They pointed to a 2011 playoff series against the Sounders when they went to Seattle with a 3-0 lead, bunkered in and had to hold on for dear life, eking out a 3-2 win on aggregate.
“We need to go in there and put pressure on them, not just sit back and absorb for 90 minutes,” Beltran said. “We've got to go in and take the game to them a little bit.
“We can't just completely focus on the defensive aspect. We also have to go in there and do what we did at home. That's take advantage of their vulnerable spots and score goals.”