BEAVERTON, Ore. – It’s been a long time coming, and on Wednesday the Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake will finally meet in 2013.
Traditional rivals? No. But that may change over the next month.
Starting with Wednesday’s US Open Cup match at Rio Tinto Stadium (9:30 pm ET; USsoccer.com), the Timbers and RSL, separated by just three points atop MLS’ Western Conference standings, will meet three times over the next three weeks. The two teams will then finish their league series, which will undoubtedly play a huge role the makeup of the postseason, on Oct. 19 at JELD-WEN Field.
Needless to say, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter has been watching RSL very, very closely.
“I’ve been looking forward to playing them for a long time,” Porter said following Monday’s session at the team’s training facility. “I’ve probably watched them more than any other team because we haven’t played them and we’ve had a lot of time, we’ve had more time to watch them than any other team.”
What has drawn Porter’s attention doesn’t merely have to do with the two team’s close proximity in the tight playoff race; RSL sits atop the conference table while Portland are three points behind in second place with a game in hand. Porter has been watching RSL even before he joined Portland over the offseason.
“I’ve been looking forward to this matchup probably since I took the job,” Porter said. “I like the style that they play, and the style they play is similar to our style so I’ve probably followed their team more than I’ve followed any other team prior to getting this job.”
Both teams press high. Both teams play a possession game. Porter said the two teams will offer a unique showcase of strategic soccer.
It will also be a nice departure from a string of recent games that have been marked more by their physical play rather than quality soccer, he said.
“It will make for an entertaining game, more than anything, a football game, which is nice because we’ve had some games recently that haven’t been, well they’ve been football games, they’ve been more American football games,” Porter said. “This will be a game where the ball is on the ground and the game will be decided on the football, not on the tackles and the fouls. I think it will be a nice game for people to watch.”
It will also be the first move in an ongoing chess match. With so many games in such a tight window, what works in one match may not work in the next. Porter said the series reminds him of the number of games Real Madrid and Barcelona play against one another in a season.
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“It was always interesting for me to study from one game to the next kind of that chess match,” Porter said. “[RSL head coach Jason] Kreis is a good coach, he’s a tactician, a cerebral coach … I think there will be some interesting tweaks and twists in this game but also in the future as well.”
And, of course, there’s the added twist that a Portland win would mean a chance for them to play for a trophy, in front of their fans, for the first time in their MLS era.
“If anything it kind of gives you a little bit of an extra buzz because you know that wining this game means more than just three points, winning this game leads to playing for a trophy,” Porter said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.