Tonight features the second leg of Western Conference Championship between Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake. For viewers in the United States, the live broadcast begins at 9pm ET on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.
What It Means For Portland, 2-1-0 – #1 Seed in the Western Conference
The Portland Timbers’ 2013 has been one of the most remarkable seasons in MLS history, as the Timbers climbed from the Western Conference cellar to the top of the league with panache, heart, and guts. As the landmarks keep rolling in, it’s the kind of season Timbers fans never want to see end. A year when everything goes right, and anything seems possible.
Now, the Timbers are staring at the end. After imploding in Salt Lake, the season would be done and dusted if not for two moments of individual brilliance that bookended an absolute nightmare: If not for Will Johnson’s free kick, and Frederic Piquionne’s bullet header, this season is over. Perhaps it should be. And yet, the Timbers are still alive, a fact that shouldn’t be surprising in this magical season.
Down only two goals at home, the task is possible. Portland has used the two-week break to regroup, drum up belief, both internally and externally, focus on the task at hand. Portland is unbeaten at home since March, and they’ve only lost in Portland once all year. Although Salt Lake has become a bit of a bogey team, the Timbers think they can do it. They’ll need to score first – one goal would send Jeld-Wen into mayhem and put the tie on a knife-edge.
What It Means For Real Salt Lake, 2-1-0 – #2 Seed in the Western Conference
Between Thursday and Sunday night two weeks ago, RSL was in dreamland. After slaying the two-time defending champion LA Galaxy in extra time, they dismantled the Portland Timbers with free-flowing attacks and back-breaking counter-attacks. Even though they gave up a stoppage time goal, Jason Kreis’ men were ecstatic with the result, which makes them huge favorites to get back to the MLS Cup Final.
However, in a season where every team has a reason to be made at MLS’s abomination of a playoff schedule (Portland had to travel to Salt Lake and play only 48 hours after beating Seattle in the first round), Salt Lake can thank the two week break between games for sapping up their momentum in the tie, and throwing it away.
RSL should have the tie in the bag, but with their recent playoff failures and shock US Open Cup Final loss to league-worst DC United, there are demons-a-plenty at the Rio Tinto. Even though his seven-year reign in Salt Lake has been hugely successful, Jason Kreis has won only one trophy, and with his name heavily linked to the marquee NYCFC job, this could be the end of an era for Salt Lake. The pressure is, obviously, on.
RSL play a very similar game to Portland, and they do it with a tad more refinement. Salt Lake were able to overrun the Timbers’ two-man midfield in the first leg, and use pace and pressure to run at an savvy – but slow – Timbers backline. If Salt Lake can keep possession and hold the midfield through their anchor Kyle Beckerman, they’ll take Portland and their crowd out of the game early.