SANDY, Utah — Despite going into Portland on Sunday night with a two-goal lead, Real Salt Lake players insist they aren't feeling the least bit over-confident.
“The fact is they're a very good team and their stadium is a tough place to play,” said Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran.
“Very tough” is an understatement. The Timbers have lost only once this season at JELD-WEN Field, site of the second leg of the Western Conference final. And RSL know that they will face not just the Timbers but 22,000 rabid Timbers fans when they try to protect their 4-2 aggregate lead and advance to the MLS Cup Final.
“I just expect them to feed off the crowd, the way home teams do,” defender Nat Borchers told reporters. “It's going to be tough. We're going to have to weather some storms.”
Real Salt Lake are so aware of the home-field advantage the Timbers possess that midfielder Ned Grabavoy scoffed at the suggestion that, should Salt Lake score an early goal, it could quiet the Portland crowd.
“We're not going to take the crowd out, I don't think,” he told reporters. “They're going to cheer the whole time. They have great support up there. But in saying that, this team likes to play in front of big [crowds]. They certainly have one of the best in the league.”
It sounds sort of counter-intuitive, but RSL players said that it won't just be the home team that draws energy from the fans that are expected to sell out the stadium this weekend.
“I think we feed off those bigger crowds,” Borchers said. “We don't like going into stadiums where there's an empty crowd. We want to play in stadium where the energy is there.”
And maybe it's not altogether counter-intuitive. Portland's home record in MLS play this season is 11-1-5, and two of those ties came the two times the Claret-and-Cobalt played in JELD-WEN.
Besides, some Real Salt Lake fans are expected to make the trek up north for this crucial playoff encounter. The 280 tickets allotted to the club sold out quickly, and the team is taking an extra 40 staffers to the game.
“I'm really looking forward to is seeing our fans there,” Kyle Beckerman told reporters. “It will be bright red in some corner of the stadium. And in that type of environment, to have your own supporters there, it means a lot.”