Real Salt Lake returns home to complete one of its toughest stretches of the 2014 season, playing host to Western Conference rival Portland Timbers on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium at 8:00 p.m.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s clash:
Will RSL continue its dominance over Portland?
Real Salt Lake has a pretty dominate history against the Portland Timbers, and is currently riding an 11-game unbeaten run against the Cascadia side. Portland’s only win came over three years ago, with the Timbers defeating RSL in April 2011 when the sides first met in MLS. RSL kept the undefeated streak going the last time to two sides met on April 19 at Rio Tinto Stadium, with RSL earning a 1-0 win thanks to a great Ned Grabavoy goal. The Claret-and-Cobalt posts an 8-1-3 mark across all competitions against the Pacific Northwest side and a 5-1-3 all-time regular season record against Portland.
Will Plata make his return on Saturday?
Lethal striker Joao Plata has missed the Claret-and-Cobalt’s last two matches due to a hamstring injury picked up against FC Dallas on May 24. The speedy Ecuadorian has six goals in nine appearances this year, tying him for the team lead with forward Alvaro Saborio. RSL has severely missed the absence of both Plata and Saborio, with no other forwards finding the back of net this season. RSL midfielder Luis Gil snapped the Claret-and-Cobalt’s scoreless streak at 275 minutes on Wednesday, when he scored in the 56th minute against Columbus.
Will RSL’s diverse attack against Portland endure?
Historically, RSL has had a very diverse attack against Portland with ten different players scoring and eight different players assisting on a total of 15 goals in the Utah side’s last seven matches against the Timbers (2013-14). RSL midfielder Javier Morales leads the way for RSL with three goals; followed by Saborio, Plata and Robbie Findley with two goals each; forward Devon Sandoval, midfielders Luis Gil, Cole Grossman and Ned Grabavoy, and defenders Chris Schuler and Nat Borchers all have one tally against the Cascadia club in that time frame. Captain Kyle Beckerman, Morales and Plata lead the way for RSL in assists, with three helpers each; Grabavoy, Gil, Findley, Saborio and midfielder Sebastian Velasquez all have one assist against Portland since the start of 2013.
Will the Claret-and-Cobalt return to the diamond midfield and normal starting lineup?
On Wednesday night in Columbus, Head Coach Jeff Cassar deviated from RSL’s standard diamond midfield for the first time this year, opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation instead. With RSL playing three games in eight days, the road test against the Crew was an opportunity to rest some starters ahead of its clash with Portland. Wednesday’s lineup featured an almost entirely new back line (Rich Balchan, Carlos Salcedo, Chris Schuler, Abdoulie Mansally), and marked the first career start for midfielder John Stertzer. With veteran defenders Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran and Nat Borchers rested, Real Salt Lake should look a bit more familiar on Saturday.
Last MLS match before World Cup break
Saturday’s match will be Real Salt Lake’s final MLS regular season match until June 28 when the Claret-and-Cobalt travel to California to take on Chivas USA at StubHub Center. That isn’t to say RSL won’t be busy in June though, since it will play its first Open Cup match against NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks on June 14 in Georgia. But with the upcoming regular season break, RSL will want to end on a high note at home. Will RSL leave it all on the line on Saturday?