[MLS PLAYOFFS: Portland-Real Salt Lake] When Portland and Real Salt Lake meet Sunday to decide which of them will play in MLS Cup, the team that needs to score will have its greatest attacking threat.
In a conference call with reporters Friday, head coaches Caleb Porter and Jason Kreis gave updates on Diego Valeri and Alvaro Saborio, respectively.
Valeri (adductor injury) went through full training sessions Wednesday and Friday and is a candidate to start for the Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field (Sunday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN); Kreis, speaking prior to the team’s departure for Portland, said Saborio (hip flexor) would not make the trip.
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“We haven’t gotten him back on the training field yet,” said Kreis of Saborio, sidelined by injuries and national team callups for all but 16 league games this season. “We’ll hope that we can advance and give him a chance to play in the final.”
Kreis still has Robbie Findley, Devon Sandoval, Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata as options up front. They scored a combined 18 goals this season.
In his first year in MLS, Valeri led the Timbers in goals (10) and assists (13) during the regular season and has scored one goal in the playoffs. Saborio scored 12 goals in those 16 regular-season games, so in this category Portland, which trails 4-2 from the first leg, rates the advantage.
However, RSL racked up that 4-2 win at Rio Tinto Stadium in the first leg Nov. 9 without its top scorer, and its last match at Jeld-Wen was a 0-0 tie. Since this is also their sixth meeting in league, U.S. Open Cup and playoff action this season, there shouldn’t be any surprises regardless of personnel.
“Our guys have been through so many tactical situations that I’m pretty sure I could ask them questions about what needs to be done and they’d all have the correct answers,” said Kreis, who will also be without outside back Chris Wingert.
Kreis played down the effects of the two-week break necessitated by the FIFA international match dates; it’s already happened several times this season due to other breaks and quirks in the MLS schedule.
In fact that 0-0 tie in Portland Oct. 19 was preceded by a two-week break.
“We had several opportunities to try it,” said Kreis. “We did it wrong, and then try it, and did it right. We’ve learned something from that and put into practice exactly what we’ve done in the past.”
Porter referred to a ‘Groundhog Day” mentality caused by discussing the second leg daily for the past 12 days, and right back Jack Jewsbury was just as dismissive about the effects of a relatively long break between playoff games. (There will also be a two-week break leading up to MLS Cup.)
“The reality is, there’s not much talk about it the locker room,” said Jewsbury, who is back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season with Kansas City. “Guys realized beforehand what the task was and you can look at it a couple of different ways.
“On one sense, it gives guys a bit of a breather to rest the legs a little bit that first week and then get back into things, like Caleb said, and then get a bit of normalcy this week. On the other hand, we’re biting at the bit to get back on the field and play, ‘cause we weren’t extremely happy with the first leg and know we can make up for that this weekend.”
Porter emphasized, rightly, that his focus is on reversing a two-goal deficit at home. The Timbers lost only one league game at Jeld-Weld (along with a U.S. Open Cup semifinal to RSL) and compiled a hefty goal differential of plus-18, second-best in MLS. It won six league games at home by at least two goals. The coach also pointed out the 11 shutouts recorded this season at Jeld-Wen.
“We’re always looking to score two goals or more every single game,” said Porter. “So the worst thing we can do is look at that two-goal deficit and come out gun-slingin’ and reckless to the point that we give up [a goal] and dig ourselves an even bigger hole.
“We’ve played very well at home and we’ve played very well at home against Salt Lake, so why dwell on what didn’t go right at Rio Tinto last game? We’re going to focus more on how we played against them at home and focus, more importantly, on how we always play at home: that’s aggressive, that’s proactive, that’s trying to score two goals or more, that’s trying to get a shutout, that’s trying to win a game.”