The Portland Timbers' game on Saturday night at Providence Park against Real Salt Lake will be hugely significant in the Western Conference playoff race, but, for completely unrelated reasons, it will also be a special night for the club (7:30 PM, TV on ROOT Sports).
Saturday's match will mark the 100th straight home sellout for the Timbers since they joined MLS in the Spring of 2011. The club will commemorate the milestone with a special scarf, captain's armband, and giveaway patch for fans. On a related note, Sunday's Portland Thorns NWSL match is sold out as well.
It's all more than worth celebrating. However the game goes this weekend, and however this Timbers season ends, we have something very, very special with soccer in Portland.
The Timbers lead the race for the Western Conference's final playoff spot by three points. The two teams chasing them — Seattle and San Jose, who play each other this weekend — both have two games in hand. As long as the Timbers continue to lose on the road, as they did last weekend, they chance missing out on the postseason.
Salt Lake is in a much more secure position. Currently in second place in the Western Conference, tied on points with LA and Colorado, RSL's focus is on securing one of the top two positions in the table and a first round playoff bye.
The first two games between these teams this year were both high-octane, and both finished 2-2. Salt Lake traveled to Portland in the second week of the season, in a game which saw RSL go up two goals, go down to nine men, and blow the lead in the last ten minutes.
The return trip to Sandy, Utah took place in June. The Timbers thought they had a late winner in that game from Darren Mattocks, only for it to be incorrectly ruled out for offsides.
RSL was in action on Wednesday night at the Rio Tinto in a frenetic match, scoring deep into stoppage time to salvage a 3-3 draw with the Galaxy. This will be the first match that the Timbers have played against Salt Lake since the beginning of last season without longtime RSL center back Nat Borchers in the lineup.
The Timbers were exceedingly poor in their game last weekend in Frisco, but don't expect too many changes to the lineup from here on in. For better or worse, the group that played against Dallas is roughly the group they're going to have for the rest of the season.
Portland will get a boost for this game in the return of Alvas Powell and Darlington Nagbe from international duty. Powell will slide back into his right back spot, and while there remains plenty of reason to try and get Nagbe back into central midfield, the Timbers' lack of reliable wingers seems make a 4-3-3 unlikely at this juncture.
Darren Mattocks, who played the second half in Jack Barmby's place last weekend in Dallas, could be ready for his first start since mid-July. If he gets the nod, it will most likely be in place of Lucas Melano — who is, once again, in a dreadful run of form.
Salt Lake is facing something of a crisis at center back, where the club has lost both of its starters — Aaron Maund and Justen Glad — in recent weeks. Jamison Olave, who was sent off in Portland earlier this year, is suspended due to an altercation with LA's Daniel Steres early in the game on Wednesday night. Fanendo Adi should have a big day.
On the other side, one or both of RSL's excellent wingers — Burrito Martinez and Joao Plata — are sure to test Vytas. Yura Movsisyan, who has scored in both of the meetings between these teams this year, could be a handful as well. Expect a high-scoring game.
90 - Gleeson
2 - Powell
24 - Ridgewell (C)
27 - S. Taylor
5 - Vytas
13 - Jewsbury
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri
22 - Mattocks
9 - Adi
As bad as the Timbers have been on the road this year, they've been very good in bouncing back from losses. With Salt Lake on short rest and banged up defensively, Portland will win 3-1.