Storylines To Watch: Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake

Starting strong

Real Salt Lake has won the season-opening match in each of the last five seasons, with each of them coming on the road.  In that span, Nick Rimando has allowed just one goal.  Last year saw a 1-0 victory over the LA Galaxy that started an unbeaten run that lasted 12 matches as Jeff Cassar led his side to a 6-0-6 record in his first season as head coach.

Getting out on the right foot could do wonders in giving RSL a confidence boost after some hefty roster turnover and a switch to a new formation.

Familiar face

Nat Borchers played seven seasons with the Claret-and-Cobalt, but now wears the green of the Timbers.  He now stabilizes a backline alongside Liam Ridgewell as Portland looks to shore up a defense that allowed 52 goals a year ago, keeping the highly explosive offense from reaching the playoffs for a second consecutive year.  While he remains friendly with his former teammates, Borchers becomes a combatant when the whistle blows to start the match on Saturday.

“It’s going to be so weird … I don’t know, it’s going to be really weird,” RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said, shaking his head with a smile.  “I’m excited to see him again and see his family.”

Next man up

Both teams are playing without key contributors, as Joao Plata suffered a fractured foot in the first training session during preseason.  Meanwhile on the other bench, Diego Valeri and Ben Zemanski are recovering from knee injuries and Will Johnson is coming back from a fractured leg.  That means opportunities across the board.

Olmes Garcia likely steps into Plata’s spot, one that Garcia has occupied all preseason, while Caleb Porter has a bevy of options to fill in for his missing trio, including veteran Jack Jewsbury in the midfield and Argentine forward Gaston Fernandez.

Facing an army

RSL will not see many greater road atmospheres than the one provided by the Timbers Army at Providence Park.  While that can provide an intimidating environment for visiting teams, Jeff Cassar takes a different view, noting that it’s easy to get up for a game when the crowd is so involved.

“They’re really boisterous and really back their team.  But at the same time, it’s a great place to play.  It gives the opponent energy as well,” he smiled.  “It’s a great place to get a win or a result.”