In a classic bit of procrastination, we usually don’t talk playoff seeding or fortunes on Opening Night, but the Portland Timbers’ hosting of Real Salt Lake on Saturday is a big one.
Portland and Real Salt Lake are both tipped to compete for a playoff spot, but the respected sides are considered behind Seattle and L.A. in the West.
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It’s also the Nat Borchers Derby, with the industrious veteran defender moving from Real Salt Lake to Portland in exchange for allocation funds.
Borchers is solid, but for us it’s all about Darlington Nagbe this season. With Diego Valeri and Will Johnson both coming off major injuries, the fifth-year man’s presence is even more important to the club (if that’s even possible!).
“When I first came, I was 20 years-old and coming to a new city far away from home,” Nagbe said. “I feel like I’m more comfortable now.
“In training, I tell the younger guys ‘good job’ and ‘good work’ and stuff like that so they hear it coming from me. Maybe it motivates them, maybe it doesn’t, but I know when I was a younger guy and I heard compliments from a player that was older than me it made me feel good.”
Despite the rivalry and Borchers’ knowledge of Real Salt Lake, the club won’t be super familiar to the Timbers because of a new 4-3-3 formation.
“It’s a work in progress, it really is. The main thing is that we need to keep trying to improve,” Beckerman said. “We just have to keep steady, working hard every day and in the beginning of the season it’s really important for us to pick up wins and pick up some draws and find ways to get results even when the formation isn’t looking the best.”
Added Cassar, “They’ve seen where they can have success, which is a positive. But we’ve also seen where we can get caught a little bit. I think it’s a formation that’s going to benefit a lot of players. It’s just making sure we’re right on the defensive end as well.”
They’ll tangle at 10:30pm ET in Portland.