Who's the best in the West? Pretty sure I'm looking at 'em right now.
We're LIVE at The Jelly, where the Timbers could pull into a tie for first place with Real Salt Lake when the two meet at 8(ish) p.m. It's the first of three league meetings over the final two months of the season between these sides—and this lovely summer evening could very well bring the opening salvo in a conversation that'll decide the Western Conference and the Supporters' Shield.
"We're just looking forward to getting them on our home field," said Portland forward Ryan Johnson on Saturday, after the Timbers' 2-1 win vs. Dallas. "We definitely want to impose our will against them and just get a bit of payback."
That'd be for a 2-1, US Open Cup-ousting loss in Utah on Aug. 7, when RSL controlled Portland for much of the match and held off a fierce rally attempt late to advance to the final. Yes, it was only two weeks ago, but this match is likely to have a different look with lineup shifts all over the pitch.
Salt Lake will be without regular keeper Nick Rimando, and starters Alvaro Saborio and Carlos Salcedo, while (BURY THE LEAD) both teams will be without their on-field leaders: Portland Capt. Will Johnson is still nursing a shoulder injury he suffered in Salt Lake, while RSL's Kyle Beckerman sits the bench for yellow-card accumulation.
The top of the table is within sight! So stop making that face, click past the jump and follow along as I deftly describe the action—on and off the pitch.
Salt Lake (12-8-5, 41 pts)—Jeff Attinella in goal. Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Chris Wingert and Brandon McDonald on defense. Yordany Alvarez, Khari Stephenson, Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy at midfield. Robbie Findley and Joao Plata up front.
Rounding out the 18: Olmes Garcia, Cole Grossman, Lalo Fernandez, Kenny Mansally, Luis Gil, (former Timber) Lovel Palmer, Devon Sandoval.
Portland (9-3-11, 38 pts)—Donovan Ricketts in goal. Alvas Powell, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah and Michael Harrington on defense. Diego Chara, Diego Valeri, Ben Zemanski and Darlington Nagbe at midfield. Ryan Johnson and Rodney Wallace up front.
Rounding out the 18: Milos Kocic, Raushawn McKenzie, Ryan Miller, Kalif Alhassan, Steven Evans, Sal Zizzo, Jose Valencia.
PREGAME: We're about to see the best offensive (RSL) and defensive (PTFC) teams in the league square off, though plenty of RSL's firepower is sidelined. Should Portland take advantage and pull one out here, they'd be tied up top with two games in hand.
"Real" is 1-3-1 in its last five league matches, but don't be deceived: The losses have all come against title contenders.
A trio of Timbers will need to play carefully tonight: Chara, Kah and Zemanski will miss next Sunday's match at Seattle should they pick up a yellow card tonight.
FIRST HALF: And away we go! Timbers headed toward their Army...
1st minute—Timbers Army once again chanting "DODGY KEEPER" early, but this time it fits—Attinella is RSL's third-string net-minder.
2nd—First free kick of the night from 45 yards or so out is swung in by Morales, but Ricketts rises up to grab it. He gets slightly undercut by Harrington there and goes to the pitch, but is up and appears OK>
3rd—Timbers charge ahead and Chara sends a cross in front for Johnson, but Attinella comes out to jump and grab it. Good thought by Chara to test the young keeper early.
4th—Timbers nearly score TWICE! An attempted clearance Attinella is knocked down by Valeri, who hammers it off the post. Portland collects and plays it back in for Johnson, who crushes a ball into Attinella—but Johnson is called offside. Frenetic action early in the North End, and that's just the way the Timbers want it with the third-stringer keeper in there.
8th—Zemanski with a couple nice hustle plays early to break up passes. Portland brings it down and Valeri finds Wallace, who tries to flick it to himself. He ends up getting tangled up with an RSL defender and called for a foul.
10th—Chara with a steal in RSL's end and gets it to Valeri. He tries a chip ahead to Johnson, but RSL defends it well.
15th—Findley takes a long ball into the box and goes 1-on-1 with AJ-B. He fires a cross, but Kah is there to get a foot on it and knock it away. Good positioning by both Portland defenders. Seconds later, Morales gets one square at the top of the box, but his shot attempt is knocked away by Kah.
17th—Timbers playing a man up after Borchers comes off with an apparent cut on the back of his head. Looks like he got it when going for a 50-50 ball vs. Johnson.
18th—Valeri dribbles ahead and plays straight into the box for Johnson, but RSL is there to clear it. Portland definitely getting more of what they want tonight as opposed to the USOC semifinal.
20th—Powell with a cross that's just over the pack. Portland maintains control and after Nagbe finds Wallace in the box, he goes for a cross. It's just behind Johnson and Powell, the latter of whom has one from 15 yards that sails on him. Some continued good buildup for Portland.
22nd—Powell again with a cross right into the middle, but Attinella does well to come out and grab it. Great decision there by the young keeper, who's been solid while Portland peppers RSL's defense with chances.
24th—TIMBERS GOAL! RODNEY WALLACE! It's a free kick score for the Timbers. Valeri curls one in from 35 yards and Wallace is there to head it home. No chance for Attinella on a beautiful service by Valeri and finish by Wallace. Timbers lead, 1-0.
27th—Timbers nearly give one up right away on a free kick. Morales sends it in and Findley gets a foot on it, but it trickles right to Ricketts. Portland fortunate there on what could've been a dangerous situation. On the other end, Timbers earn a corner kick. Valeri will take it from the Northeast corner.
28th—Valeri sends it in high and AJ-B gets a bit of a header on it, but it's no problem for Attinella. Kah goes down holding his head, but he's quick to his feet.
31st—Wallace with a nifty pass on the sideline to spring Nagbe, who makes his way into the box. He fires a shot that's right off the face of an RSL defender. TA wants a handball call, but none coming.
34th—Valeri with a long ball ahead to Johnson, who's fouled in the corner of the box. Free kick coming. And a dangerous one at that.
35th—Valeri takes a shot that appears headed for the near post, but it's into the three-man RSL wall and pops in the air. Missed opportunity there for Portland, though I can't blame Valeri for having one from that close.
37th—Harrington called for a foul deep in Portland's end. Free kick coming for RSL. Morales lining it up.
38th—RSL GOAL! The Morales free kick comes in and is headed out by Nagbe. RSL plays it back in and Alvarez heads it at Ricketts, who can't find the handle. Valeri can't clear, and the ball bounces right to Borches, who taps it in easily. Aaaaaaand....we're tied at 1.
42nd—PENALTY KICK RSL! AJ-B called for a penalty in the box, all set up by a bad giveaway on a free kick by Portland. Penalty set up by Stephenson, who cracks a shot that bounces off Ricketts and as it bounds back to the middle, AJ-B is called for pulling down Morales. Tough call there. Morales might have gotten a bit floppy, but AJ-B clearly put his arm out. Fans really hate the call, naturally.
44th—RSL GOAL Morales finishes the job on a hesitation strike that leaves Ricketts no chance. RSL leads, 2-1. Replay comes on the screen and the fans hate the call.
Two minutes of stoppage...And now things are really unraveling for Portland. Chara called for a yellow for a foul on Morales in the corner. He'll miss the match at Seattle....Free kick comes in and is deflected by Zemanski. Nagbe takes it and heads down the line, but dribbles it out of bounds...Timbers Army chanting "YELLOW TEAM SUCKS!"
HALFTIME: Real Salt Lake 2, Portland 1. AJ-B yelling at the refs at midfield and here comes Porter to do the same. Fans raining boos on the pitch. In any case, Portland had a pretty rotten last 10 minutes of that half, and this match has completely turned on its head. Timbers perhaps lost their cool and definitely lost their defensive form.
Some stats: RSL out-shot Portland 6-5 (five of those Real shots were on target) and won the possession battle 51.6% to 48.4%. They also won nearly 55% of the duels.
SECOND HALF: We're back at it...Timbers headed toward the South end. How will they respond to giving away a pair of goals late in the half?
47th—First foul of the half in the Timbers' end. Morales sends it in and Wallace battles Plata to knock it away.
49th—RSL free kick taken by Morales. It's through the box and headed away by Johnson. Another corner earned after Plata's shot deflects off Valeri. Morales sends it in and Findley is there for a header, but it's over the crossbar.
50th—Timbers with a free kick about 40 yards out and Valeri swings it in. It's right for Johnson, who's WIDE OPEN! He gets a header on it and it's OFF THE STOMACH OF ATTINELLA! The two collide and Johnson goes into the net. Wow, Portland nearly equalizes there. That would've been something, but RSL is fortunate that Attinella had his gut in the right spot.
53rd—Kah called for a foul 30 yards out and hates it. He does a little tantrum deal and chirps at the ref. Morales lines it up and goes upper V, but Ricketts leaps to grab it.
55th—Valeri goes out wide for Wallace, who chips it in toward Zemanski. He takes a step back from his defender and goes for the circus left-footed shot, but can't get a solid shot.
56th—PENALTY KICK TIMBERS! The ball is played ahead to Wallace, who in a scuffle with McDonald, draws the handball call. Morales is given a yellow card for arguing and Valeri is lining it up.
57th—TIMBERS GOAL! Valeri puts it up the middle and we're tied at 2. Game on!
60th—Timbers look like they're cooking with gas now. Valeri on the overlapping run and crosses right in front, but nobody is there. Grabavoy clears and RSL would be advised to slow things down here as the fans get into it.
61st—Timbers have a 3-on-2 and Nagbe tries a cross for Valeri, but it's just high. Timbers maintain and Nagbe breaks a few defenders down with his dribbles before firing a shot that's deflected down. Nagbe with a confident run there—just what Timbers fans are hoping for.
63rd—Subs for each team. For Portland, Trencito is on for Johnson. For RSL, Gil is on for Stephenson. Earliest Trencito has been on in his MLS career.
65th—Powell showing some skills! After a cross goes through the box and a dummy by Findley, Powell completely rips Grabavoy and starts a run. He takes it all the way down field and passes to Valencia, who fires a shot that goes just wide. Wow, what a defensive play and show off offensive instinct by the young Jamaican.
66th—Things are heating up. Valeri with a great ball ahead to Trencito, but the youngster cracks it waaaaay too early and it rolls right of goal. Trencito looks apologetic and for good reason. He could've taken three more steps and really put Attinella in a bind. Instead, he shoots early and it's no worries.
67th—Play stops as Ricketts is down in front of the Timbers goal.
69th—Ricketts back on his feet and we're back at it. Looks like a right leg bump occured when Plata, he and Kah were scrapping for the ball near the goal.
70th—Gil and Plata with a little give-and-go and Plata has one that's deflected up in the air for Ricketts, who skies to grab it.
74th—Harrington called for a foul at midfield. RSL sub: It'll be Garcia for Findley.
76th—Valeri ahead to Valencia, who shows some fancy footwork before going to Wallace. He cracks a shot, but it's deflected right away and out.
77th—Valeri again on the break and finds Valencia. He fires and it's deflected. Trencito asking the handball call but won't get it.
78th—Another Valeri break and tries to find Valencia. It's behind him and cleared away with yet another well-time RSL foot. Timbers sub: They'll bring on Alhassan for Nagbe.
79th—STRAIGHT RED CARD ON RSL! Alvarez comes in way late on Chara and catches him hard on the shin. Dangerous play and referee Ricardo Salazar doesn't waste any time pulling the red card. Timbers will play a man up the rest of this one.
81st—RSL foul in a dangerous spot as Garcia and Wallace combine. We'll have a free kick coming from 25 yards. But first, an RSL sub: Grossman coming on for Plata.
82nd—Valeri blasts it on goal and it's SAAAAVED by Attinella! Great save there, but it'll be a corner kick for Valeri.
83rd—Valeri sends it in and Attinella punches it away. The ball ends up with Harrington, who sends it in...and Kah and Attinella collide. Both go down but it looks like Attinella got the worst of it. Kah looks like he caught the keeper with an elbow, but Attinella is back on his feet. Good thing for RSL: They have no subs left.
85th—Wallace on the run and crosses ahead to Valeri, whose left-footer is blocked
86th—TIMBERS GOAL! ALHASSAN! He gathers in a misplayed clearance by Borchers off a Powell cross and buries it in the left side of the net. Attinella gets a hand on it, but not enough. Timbers lead, 3-2. Wow. First goal of the year for Alhassan. Put your hands up, indeed.
88th—Timbers sub: Miller on for Valeri.
90th—RSL with a free kick from 40 yards out. Morales knocks it into the box and it's popped in the air. Ricketts skies for it and is undercut, so it'll be a foul.
Six minutes of stoppage...Alhassan steals an RSL throw-in and gets ahead, but he wisely taps the brakes and goes back toward midfield. Tick tick tick...RSL GOAL! THEY TIE IT UP! Grossman ties it up after a failed Timbers clearance by AJ-B goes right to him. Holy shit, we're tied at 3! Timbers pressing ahead and here comes Powell. He's tripped up and looks for a call, but none will come.
FULL TIME: It's a 3-3 draw. And an absolutely improbable one. The Timbers look dejected, and Kah, AJ-B and Wallace are sitting on the pitch, heads in hands. Wow. This match turned on its head about a half-dozen times. Portland was a few minutes from the top of the table, but RSL manages to tie it in extra time and steal a draw. Timbers still three points out of first place, but with the tie, they're tied for second in the West. Fans are chanting "BEAT SE-ATTLE!" After a draw like this, can the Timbers move on as quickly?