SANDY, Utah – Chances are, when Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers take the field on Sunday night in the Western Conference Championship (9 pm ET, ESPN, RDS2 in Canada), there won't be a lot of surprises. These are two teams that know each other very well.
After not meeting for the first five months of the season, the two teams met three times in August and once in October in both league play and the US Open Cup.
“I think it definitely makes us feel a little more comfortable with our opposition – sort of knowing their strengths and knowing their weaknesses,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis told reporters on Saturday. “Where we can get at them and where they can get at us. There's isn't a whole lot of planning that we have to do. Simplifies things.”
And, he said, “Portland also has picked up quite a bit of experience just in the first two [playoff] games against a very, very good team in Seattle and showed how dominant they can be.”
“We have a good idea what they're capable of,” RSL forward Robbie Findley told reporters. “We know that their outside backs like to get forward in the attack. I think that's where we can catch them. We have a good idea what they're capable of doing.”
But Findley was quick to point out, “It goes both ways. They have a good idea of what we like to do and how we like to play. I mean, it comes down to who executes best.”
The fact that the two teams know each other so well might mean something; the fact that Portland is winless in four matches against RSL this season does not.
“No, it's not an advantage,” RSL playmaker Javier Morales told MLSsoccer.com. “New York beat Houston three times and they lose in the playoffs, so that doesn't matter.”
Not only did the Red Bulls go 3-0-0 against Houston in the regular season, the combined score was an equally lopsided 9-1. In the playoffs, New York were eliminated 4-3 on aggregate.
RSL won both meetings with Portland in Rio Tinto Stadium this season, including a US Open Cup semifinal. The two teams tied both times they played at JELD-WEN Field in Portland. Since the Timbers joined the league in 2011, they've beaten RSL just once, in their second meeting of their inaugural year. Salt Lake leads the series 6-1-2, including that USOC match.
Which still doesn't mean much of anything as it relates to Sunday's game.
“I think you kind of wipe the slate clean,” said RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy. “This is a new series.”