BEAVERTON, Ore. – Considering the way the Portland Timbers have performed against Real Salt Lake this year, it would stand to reason that head coach Caleb Porter would consider some strategic tweaks for the upcoming second leg of the Western Conference Championship of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The Timbers have yet to defeat RSL in five tries, losing three times by a combined score of 10-5 and tying twice across all competition.
But Porter isn’t thinking that way ahead of Sunday’s match at JELD-WEN Field (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes). In fact, Porter said he’s not even looking at Portland’s three losses to RSL due to the fact that they were all on the road at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“Right now, that’s not anything I care about,” Porter said after Friday’s training session at the team facility, speaking about the Timbers' away performances against RSL this year, the latest being a 4-2 loss last Sunday in the first leg of the conference championship. “I care about how we play at home and what we need to do to win.
"And looking at the evidence we have in the home games against them, we’ve actually played well. More importantly, the evidence throughout the entire year we play really well at home, and that’s what we’re going to do in this game. So there’s no reason to change a thing.”
Portland first played RSL at home to a 3-3 draw on Aug. 21 that would have been a Timbers win if not for a stoppage-time equalizer from RSL. And then the two teams played to a scoreless draw on Oct. 19 at JELD-WEN, in which the Timbers didn’t allow a single shot on goal.
Throughout the course of the season, the Timbers posted the league’s best home record at 11-1-5.
Of course, Portland will have to improve on even those performances if they are to overcome the two-goal deficit on aggregate, but Porter said those games are enough to give them confidence it can be done.
“I think that gives the guys a bit more buzz,” Porter said.
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Even the two-goal hole hasn’t led Porter to say he’ll change anything tactically. He reiterated the fact that the Timbers always attempt to be the aggressor, especially at home, but they’re not in a situation where they have to throw caution to the wind and throw numbers forward.
“We don’t want to be doing that, playing recklessly, early in the game,” he said. “That’s not the way to approach it. But you will see a very aggressive, proactive mindset out of our group. … We need to make them deal with us. That’s the best way for us to pull this off.”
Timbers captain Will Johnson said there’s every indication that the Timbers will at least make Real Salt Lake sweat a little bit.
“Obviously, we knew for us not to go to the MLS Cup, someone is going to have to produce a performance on our field, and that’s exactly what Real Salt Lake is going to have to do,” Johnson said. “They’re going to have to hold us to get a good result to get through. So it’s in our hands, we control our own destiny and if we’re good enough on the day we can get the job done.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.