After a week off to recharge, the Portland Timbers return to Providence Park for the second of two straight games against Real Salt Lake on Sunday afternoon (2:00 p.m., TV on ROOT Sports).
The stakes could hardly be higher. The Timbers will clinch a second straight postseason appearance with a win or draw, while anything less than a win would put RSL in grave danger of being passed by the LA Galaxy for the Western Conference's sixth and final postseason spot.
When the Timbers hammered RSL 4-1 two weeks ago at the Rio Tinto Stadium, it felt like a potential season-ender for the Claret and Cobalt.
But after a week-and-a-half off, with Kyle Beckerman and Sunny suspended and Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino, and Joao Plata resting, RSL responded: crushing New England 4-1 on Thursday night in Sandy to keep their postseason bid alive.
The victory means that, with only Sunday's game left to play, RSL sits four points ahead of the Galaxy in sixth. Should they beat the Timbers, they'll be out of LA's reach. But if they fail to win, and the Galaxy beat Minnesota and Houston in their final two games, their season will be over.
The question for Mike Petke, then, is twofold. First, he needs to decide how many of the reserves who played so well against the Revolution will keep their place for Sunday. Second, he needs to figure out what went wrong for his team in the reverse meeting in Utah, and fix it.
This is a de facto playoff game for RSL. Do or die. To win it, they'll need to play with the kind of composure and box-to-box strength that was so sorely lacking when last these teams met.
The Timbers played one of their best games of the season in the 4-2-3-1 two weeks ago, and it'd be a shock if Giovani Savarese went away from it for the rematch or, for that matter, the rest of the season.
There are a few reasons why. Savarese has been nothing if not tactically pragmatic this year, and it's clear first and foremost that his team is most comfortable in what was its primary look for the better part of five years under Caleb Porter.
There are other, more micro-level benefits to the 4-2-3-1. It allows Andy Polo to play as an out-and-out winger, it gets Diego Chara back into the middle of the field, and it gives the team the kind of wide defensive structure it lacked in recent months. It's the club's best look.
RSL is likely to setup in the same formation, but, again, their big questions are about personnel. Petke benched Justin Glad for the first time in 50 games on Thursday night, and while he's likely to return to the fold, it's anyone's guess what will happen in the front six positions.
Salt Lake needs to be organized and tough in the middle of the field. The Timbers, for their part, will have to be ready to match RSL's intensity from the opening whistle.
1 - Attinella
4 - Villafaña
24 - Ridgewell
33 - Mabiala
16 - Valentin
20 - Guzman
21 - Chara
11 - Polo
8 - Valeri (C)
10 - Blanco
17 - Ebobisse
— Attinella didn't play two weeks ago after injuring his shoulder against Dallas, but he'll be back in the lineup on Saturday night.
— Alvas Powell was another injury casualty in that Dallas game, and there's no reason to rush him back into the fold with both Valentin and Villafaña available.
— Polo started and impressed on Tuesday night for Peru against the USMNT in East Hartford. He's in his best form of the season.
— The same can probably be said for Jeremy Ebobisse, who, on the strength of his performance in the first game between these teams, should get the nod up top over Samuel Armenteros.
The Timbers were demolished 4-1 by RSL at Providence Park last year, but when the two clubs met in a crucial game down the stretch here in 2016, this lone goal from Fanendo Adi decided it.
Salt Lake will be playing for their lives, but the Timbers are the better team. They win 2-1.