Portland vs. Real Salt Lake: Another Timbers boogeyman to kill

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Most of Caleb Porter’s post-match press conferences are pretty boring, and in that way, he’s no different than almost every coach in Major League Soccer (if not the entirety of professional sport). Occasionally you work with coaches that seem to love a microphone more than the training ground, but the Timbers’ boss isn’t one of them. He’s polite, confident, talkative and direct, but he’s not an entertainer. And he’s not somebody that’s going to reveal anything he doesn’t have to.

Yet in the wake of Portland’s Sunday win over the rival Seattle Sounders, Porter used a moment’s digression to reflect on the Timbers’ rise, recalling an anecdote from last year to highlight the change he seeks in the Timbers-Sounders dynamic.

From Sunday’s post-match press conference:

One of the things I realized today, prior to the game, is that a year and a week ago, I was sitting on the couch, (and) a couple months prior I had been named head coach. I was getting ready to watch the Timbers play Seattle at Seattle. Alexi Lalas texted me — and I hadn’t made any comments; I hadn’t been [presented as head coach] officially — and he said “Do you have anything to comment on about the game?”

I said one thing. I said “the Portland Timbers will no longer be inferior to the Seattle Sounders.” That was no disrespect to Seattle, and it really wasn’t about the game that day. It was about the future.

There’s no reason why we would be inferior. There’s no reason why we should be the little brother. We should a legitimate contender. We should be capable of beating the Sounder and [it not] being a miracle.

So it think it’s very satisfying a year later here we are, getting results and getting points against the Sounders. I think it says everything about how far we’ve come as a club.

It’s a great clip, and it speaks to the unique dynamic between the Pacific Northwest’s epicenter and its fiercely independent sibling to the south. But it also slightly mischaracterizes the dynamic between the teams. After all, Portland did go 1-1-1 against Seattle in 2012, the same record they have this year. That’s not exactly dark into light stuff, there. Portland won Cascadia Cup last season.

If there is a team the Timbers have particularly struggled with, it’s the one that’s visiting JELD-WEN on Saturday – the team that will fight Porter’s side for supremacy in the West (and potentially the Supporters’ Shield). Now with 53 points, the Timbers are one ahead of Real Salt Lake, a team they haven’t beaten since 2011:

  • That year, Portland’s first in Major League Soccer, they defeated RSL 1-0 on Apr. 20 at JELD-WEN Field, ending an 18-game regular season unbeaten streak Jason Keis’s team carried into that match. Kenny Cooper volleyed home a Kalif Alhassan cross to give the Timbers what’s become and outlying. Though the Timbers would get a 1-1 result to close the year in Utah, that spring victory remains Portland’s only win over RSL.
  • Last year, RSL’s March 31 win in Portland exacted some revenge, with late goals from Jonny Steele and Kyle Beckerman dramatically overcoming a Darlington Nagbe double to give the visitors a 3-2 win. RSL would go on to post 3-0 and 2-1 wins in Sandy to sweep the season series.
  • This year, Real Salt Lake’s dominance has persisted, albeit in a less-overwhelming fashion. During an August stretch that saw the teams play three times in 24 days, RSL won twice and drew once. They knocked the Timbers out of U.S. Open Cup and posting four goals in a game where injuries and suspensions saw Caleb Porter counter Kreis’s diamond midfield with a 3-6-1 midfield overload. Final aggregate score across those three games: 9-6, RSL.

Three years, eight games, and Portland’s won once. They’ve conceded 19 times with a -9 difference. If there’s any team that’s pushed the Timbers around, it’s RSL, not Seattle.

source: Getty Images
Caleb Porter has Portland at the top of the Western Confernece, but he still hasn’t solved the Timbers’ Real Salt Lake problem. The franchise is 1-4-3 against RSL since joining Major League Soccer in 2011. Porter has gone 0-2-1 against them this season. (Photo: Getty Images.)

So what’s the secret to RSL’s success? Since John Spencer’s no longer coaching Portland, we shouldn’t read too much into 2011 and 2012’s results. Those were limited, flawed, and mistake-prone teams (as most first and second-year squads are). Perhaps Real Salt Lake’s depth, strength in the middle, and adherence to a consistent approach leaves them particularly predisposed to exploiting those kinds of teams? They know how to execute when opportunities present themselves.

This year, however, it’s more likely the Timbers are on the wrong end of a like-for-like, part of the reason Porter may have been willing to try a six-man midfield in their last meeting. Though the teams’ set-ups are different, their stylistic approaches are similar, meaning if Portland’s well-drilled scheme plans to leverage possession, movement and pressure to gain an edge, they’ll in part have to beat a more-talented team at their own game.

The good news for Portland: They’ve generally been close enough to where a few breaks could turn these results. At least, this year they have. They’re also playing at home on Saturday, where they got their only point of the season against RSL. And while Portland’s squad may not grade out as well if we coming up with ratings for FIFA14, players like Will Johnson, Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso and Michael Harrington have been transcending that perception all season. If the Timbers play well, the talent gap could be irrelevant.

Still, RSL has become a boogeyman for Portland, one that’s gotten results out of JELD-WEN before. This Saturday, they’re not only looking for a result. They’re looking for the West’s top seed.

Watch Live: Brighton v. Chelsea

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Brighton & Hove Albion host Chelsea at the Amex Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With just one win in their last 12 games, Brighton are being dragged into a relegation battle, while Chelsea aren’t in glittering form with five draws on the spin in all competitions.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

In team news, Brighton start with Tomer Hemed up top and have top scorer Glenn Murray on the bench. New club-record signing Jurgen Locadia isn’t illegible to make his Brighton debut after his signing was only confirmed late Friday, plus the former PSV Eindhoven forward is struggling with an injury..

Chelsea are without star goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who has suffered an ankle injury in training, with Willy Caballero coming in to replace him. Alvaro Morata and Pedro are suspended, while Ross Barkley is on the bench and he could make his Chelsea debut.


LINEUPS

Brighton: Ryan; Goldson, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner, Schelotto; Stephens, Propper; March, Gross, Hemed. Subs: Hunemeier, Kayal, Baldock, Murray, Izquierdo, Rosenior, Krul

Chelsea: Caballero; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Willian, Batshuayi, Hazard. SubsEduardo, David Luiz, Zappacosta, Sterling, Ampadu, Barkley, Musonda

PL Preview: Manchester City vs. Newcastle

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  • Newcastle has lost 8 PL away matches in a row
  • Man City last lost at home in PL play to Chelsea in Dec 2016
  • Newcastle has picked up 1 of a possible 30 points vs. PL top half this season

Manchester City has a great chance to rebound from its first loss of the season as they host struggling Newcastle at the Etihad on Saturday, live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

The Magpies have picked up their terrible mid-season form of late, but still remain just three points above the drop. They are unbeaten in three, with a win and two draws, and have lost just once in their last five.

Through Newcastle’s losing streak, the Magpies struggled to keep the ball out of their own net, with defensive issues all over the place. They suffered through a nine-game winless run where they conceded 19 goals. However, of late, the roles have reversed, and suddenly they can’t score. In their last four games, they have just two goals.

City, meanwhile, have a few injuries to deal with on the defensive side of things, where they cannot afford them. Fabian Delph went down in the last match and could be out for significant time, along with Vincent Kompany who continues to show his age and history of fitness issues.

INJURIES: Manchester City – OUT: Fabian Delph (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee). QUESTIONABLE: David Silva (illness), Vincent Kompany (fitness). Newcastle – OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: Dwight Gayle (knock).


What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on build-up of injuries: “In these situations, it always depends on the mentality of the players, if they can make a step forward. If they can they play in positions that are not natural positions and the other guys help them, everything is going well.”

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on not having a full squad: “When you have a short blanket, if you pull it to your face, your feet are cold, if you cover your feet, your top half is cold.”

Prediction

Newcastle has been ok of late, but not nearly enough to keep Manchester City out of the back of the net. This could get ugly, with the Citizens looking to rebound from their season’s first loss. 3-0 Man City with the possibility that it could get much worse if Newcastle gives up.

PL Preview: Burnley vs. Manchester United

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  • Burnley has 1 win vs. Man United in last 23 meetings
  • Manchester United has not conceded a goal in 2018
  • Paul Pogba is joint-top of the league with 9 assists

A critical top of the table battle comes our way from Turf Moor (!!) on Saturday as Manchester United travels to Burnley live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

Since losing at Chelsea back in early November, Manchester United in unbeaten away from home and has won four of the five road matches. Burnley, meanwhile, has lost three matches in a row to start the new year and has not won in Premier League play since December 12th against Stoke City.

The goalscoring form of each team is also in stark contrast. Manchester United has not allowed a goal in any competition in 2018, and last conceded back on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw with this Burnley side. The Clarets, meanwhile, have just one goal in their last three Premier League games and just three goals in their last six.

INJURIES: Burnley – OUT: Chris Wood (knee), Stephen Ward (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Chris Taylor (ribs). Manchester United – OUT: Daley Blind (undisclosed), Eric Bailly (ankle), Michael Carrick (heart), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Burnley manager Sean Dyche on the gap in riches between clubs: “I don’t think any of us are surprised by the gap in the Premier League – I think it’s been there a long time and it’s getting harder year on year since the business model of football has changed.”

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on focusing despite transfer rumors: “In this moment, [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan our player, [Alexis] Sanchez an Arsenal player and with a match tomorrow, I want to switch off and focus on the most important thing, which is the match.”

Prediction

Burnley may be coming back down to Earth, but they are still a formidable team with great organization, and Manchester United will be once again held to a draw, this time 1-1.

Alexis Sanchez in Arsenal squad, could play vs Crystal Palace

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Ahead of his nearly imminent move away from the Emirates, Alexis Sanchez could make an appearance for Arsenal against Crystal Palace this weekend as he was with the squad at the team hotel on Friday night, according to reports in England.

According to the reports, Arsene Wenger has not decided if he will play Sanchez against Palace or not, as any potential injury could seriously jeopardize any outgoing transfer in the works. However, naming him to the bench and allowing Sanchez to make one last appearance in front of the home fans would be a nice touch before he leaves, likely for Manchester United.

It probably doesn’t help Wenger’s selection that oft-injured Danny Welbeck will miss the match after picking up a muscle problem in training.

Sanchez did not travel with the team to Bournemouth last weekend as Arsenal lost 2-1 in stunning fashion. Sanchez has missed four Premier League games this season, and Arsenal has lost three of them.

The reports state Sanchez trained with the Arsenal first team on Friday, but only because the youth team he trained with the day before had left for a road trip.