The first place Portland Timbers can take a major step toward clinching the top seed in the MLS Western Conference with a win against an RSL side they haven't beaten this year.The Portland Timbers have yet to defeat Real Salt Lake in three tries in all competitions this year, but if they are going to have a chance at the Supporters Shield or the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, they are going to have to break that winless drought on Saturday night at Jeld-Wen Field.
The Timbers have turned their home field into a fortress this year, suffering just one loss there all season. That unbeaten run dates back to March, and the Timbers have become even tougher to take points off in recent weeks. They are 4-0 in their past four home games, posting four straight shutouts in the process.
The last visiting team to score a goal at Jeld-Wen Field? That would be Real Salt Lake, which fielded a reserve-laden team and earned a 3-3 tie vs. Portland on Aug. 21.
Timbers head coach Caleb Porter and RSL head coach Jason Kreis are two of the best young coaches in MLS, and their budding rivalry has the makings of strong one for years to come. Kreis has held the early edge, but Porter can send a major statement if he is able to lead Portland to a victory, and the Supporters' Shield.
Things have changed quite a bit since the last meeting between the clubs. RSL handed the Timbers a 4-2 beating at Rio Tinto Stadium just nine days after that, but that loss also happens to be the last suffered by the Timbers. And RSL? Kreis's squad has just one win in four matches since that romp.
Portland won't be at full strength for Saturday's clash, with Max Urruti expected to be sidelined with a hamstring injury and Diego Valeri. Those injuries should open the door for Ryan Johnson to return to the Timbers starting lineup, while Rodney Wallace is back from national team camp.
RSL will be shorthanded as well, with Javier Morales suspended for the match. Morales was instrumental in the team's most recent victory against the Timbers, and his absence will make it that much more difficult for RSL to hold the edge in midfield over a Timbers unit featuring Will Johnson and Diego Chara.
Despite Morales' absence, RSL will be closer to full strength than in recent weeks, with Alvaro Saborio and Kyle Beckerman back after international duty.