And yet, as the Extratime crew discussed in detail on Thursday, it's a match bursting with storylines and intrigue, including how the Timbers deal with two key absences and whether RSL can extend their magical road run.
The Timbers lost Sebastian Blanco to injury and Dairon Asprilla to a red card suspension during their 1-0 Conference Semifinal win at the Colorado Rapids on Thanksgiving. For co-host Andrew Wiebe, that makes Yimmi Chara a difference-maker for Saturday's hosts.
The Colombian attacker – and brother of longtime club servant Diego Chara – has scored twice against RSL in 2021, with Portland winning all three of their regular-season meetings.
"This is why you bought Yimmi Chara, right?" Wiebe said. "If you give Yimmi Chara space and time to run at people, to make runs off of a forward where he can find space and float a little bit, he can be incredibly dangerous. Without Blanco, without Asprilla, with [Diego] Valeri probably not starting in this game, it’s him and it’s Santiago Moreno. But he’s the one that you paid the big bucks for, he’s the one with more senior experience, he’s the one that has to step up in this match."
Meanwhile, co-host David Gass believes the return of RSL playmaker Albert Rusnak after he tested positive for COVID-19 could give the visitors a different look they need to earn a third consecutive away playoff result.
Rusnak missed the Claret-and-Cobalt's triumph on penalties over Seattle in Round One and their 2-1 win at Kansas City in the other West Semifinal. The Slovakian international has 11 goals and 11 assists during his fifth and most productive MLS season.
"It creates more space for [Aaron] Herrera because Rusnak is going to come inside, but you have to follow him," Gass said. "And it gives you that fullback option, which hasn’t really been there, and that gives [Damir] Kreilach more space to operate."
Co-host Charlie Davies, who played at Providence Park during his MLS career, said it would be unwise to underestimate the advantage the Timbers Army gives their side.
"I can tell you right now, that’s a difference," Davies said. "When you play there, you feel it. You can feel, the fans are right on top of you. When they chant, and when they’re doing their thing, that level of the Portland Timbers rises considerably."
The Extratime crew was divided in their predictions, with Gass leaning toward Salt Lake and Wiebe leaning toward Portland.
"Besides them being home, I don’t feel a lot of reasons to pick Portland in this game," Gass said. "Now, they won the last two games in the playoffs, and they won the first one fairly dominant. ... But I like the way RSL is playing, I like the way they set up against this team. I think Rusnak is a pretty big addition to bring in, not just quality, but also to just change things for them, right?"
Wiebe cited Portland's three-game regular-season sweep of Salt Lake, and the difficulty of stringing together away results, as his reasons to back the hosts.
"I know it’s stupid to talk about odds with what has happened with RSL, [but] I just think the odds that they do this three straight times on the road are so low that I’m going to go the other way," Wiebe said. "I’m going to go Portland for their fourth win in four games. But I think it’s going to be so tight, and there’s going to be some dramatic, crazy, weird moment that tips everything on its head."
For more Extratime analysis, check out the entire episode here.