As Real Salt Lake winds down the regular MLS season several engaging questions loom in regards to the last six weeks of the MLS season and CCL group play.
Real will face the Portland Timbers at home on Saturday September 22nd at 6:00PM at Rio Tinto Stadium. Perhaps the most significant question heading into the Portland match is the status of star striker Alvaro Saborio.
Sabo injured his shoulder in the final seconds against Tauro FC in Panama on Tuesday in CCL play as he was taken down in the box by the Tauro keeper, resulting in a game winning PK for RSL. Coach Jason Kreis has described the injury as a “medium grade shoulder separation”.
Initial reports stated Saborio could miss 2 to 4 weeks of match action, essentially most of the rest of the regular MLS season. However, after Friday’s practice Coach Kreis expressed that Sabo has requested to be played in Saturday’s match despite his injury. Kreis commented that the injury is primarily an issue of pain and not so much of functionality. However, the injury could obviously be exacerbated with further physical exertion. Kreis stated that he was to have a meeting with Sabo following the practice to discuss his status and try to make the right decision without endangering the player.
I suppose we will all find out about 5:00PM on Saturday. It is very possible that he will not.
Saborio has provided the overwhelming majority of scoring force in the RSL offense in what has been a year of scoring drought for the club. RSL has scored just 3 goals in their last 5 matches.
Who will provide goals for Real if Saborio does not play against Portland?
Coach Kreis has expressed he has felt the team has experienced a lack of contribution and attacking numbers in and around the penalty area in the last several months. For RSL to end their drought, they must commit more numbers to the attack. More players need to have the confidence to take shots and as a whole the squad needs to be more clinical at finishing their chances. These factors of the attack will be particularly critical if Sabo is missing in the Portland match.
Of course committing additional numbers to our attack can leave us very vulnerable to a counter. The return from injury of defending stalwarts Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler could not be more timely to help the midfield and attacking core to feel more comfortable about pushing forward and engaging in sustained pressure and attack in and around the penalty area.
Having secured an important win on the road in Panama on Tuesday the Claret-and-Cobalt is sure to derive some confidence. Given this renewed belief and the typical aggressive attacking stance of Real at home, we are likely to see the team press Portland often and hard.
With a win on Saturday Real Salt Lake will clinch a playoff spot, which leads me to my next question.
In the latest RSL Insider Kreis said, “I really feel like the playoffs have already started”.
It is my hope that this is Kreis’ current theme in the locker room and he is pushing the point with his players. RSL seems to respond well under pressure. With just 5 MLS matches left in their season (only two of which are at home) most every game becomes a must win for RSL, if they are to secure a position in the top three teams in the Western Conference and avoid the extra elimination round the 4th and 5th seeded teams will face.
RSL faces one of the more difficult final stretches in the league having to face current playoff contenders who are competing for seeding in the LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders on the road.
It is imperative that RSL treat these final 5 matches as do or die. Nothing less than three points in each match will provide the security they need to be a legitimate MLS cup contender.
While Portland has had a tumultuous season with coaching and player turnover and very little success this year, they have recently achieved two very surprising results, drawing against San Jose (1st in the MLS) on the road and Seattle (2nd in the Western Conference) at home in the last two weeks.
Portland has some very dynamic and capable attackers. It would be an error to underestimate their ability. Darlington Nagbe scored two golazos against RSL in Portland earlier this season. Both goals could likely be candidates for the top 20 goals in the MLS all season.
RSL will have to find a delicate balance between pushing numbers forward to engage in attack, while defending adequately to avoid leaving holes that would allow the Portland counter attack to exploit.
I suspect we will primarily see Portland sit in and defend most of the match and look to punish us on the counter.
I predict that RSL will emerge victorious from the match with a 1 – 0 score line.
Remember, this match is nationally televised on NBC Sports. Kick off is at 6PM so be in your seats early. It is our time as the RSL Nation to shine. Be early, be loud, be proud, believe!
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