A pair of teams looking to solidify their Western Conference playoff standing will meet Saturday when Real Salt Lake hits the road to face the Portland Timbers.
Real Salt Lake (10-9-6, 36 points) enter in sixth place in the West and are on a two-game winning streak following a 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders last Saturday. The club also is 3-2-0 under interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni, who took over from Freddy Juarez last month.
The Timbers (11-10-4, 37 points) enter in fifth place, not only one point ahead of RSL, but just one point behind the fourth-place Los Angeles Galaxy. Portland is on a five-game unbeaten run (4-0-1) after sealing a 2-1 victory with a late goal Sunday against Los Angeles FC.
In their consecutive victories, RSL has highlighted both sides of their game with a scoring outburst in a 4-3 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 15, followed by a defensive-minded performance against the Sounders.
RSL has scored 41 goals this season, second in the Western Conference, to display their goal-scoring prowess. Fine tuning the defense would help nail down a playoff berth and could lead to a long postseason run using Mastroeni's new 3-5-2 formation.
"Overall, when Pablo got this (3-5-2) idea a few weeks ago, we took the idea very professionally," said RSL's Damir Kreilach, whose second-half goal was the difference Saturday. "This is how we found ourselves right now. We have to keep going. Every game we have to minimize our mistakes and that is how we're going to get results."
After a 3-1 defeat to expansion Austin FC on Aug. 21, the Timbers have turned up the intensity to the tune of 13 points in the standings over their last five games, including Sunday's victory.
Portland not only will be trying to avoid getting passed by RSL in the standings, it could end up in fourth place with a victory and a tie or loss by the Galaxy at Austin on Sunday.
Since defeating the Sounders 2-0 on Aug. 29, the Timbers have given up just three goals during their five-game unbeaten run. Now they are looking for a repeat performance of their 3-2 victory over RSL on Aug. 7.
"The belief is there," Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. "... Practice is more intense. The ball movement has improved. The physical aspect, the fitness, we're better. We can endure a lot more. All of these areas have been very important to being better balanced emotionally."
--Field Level Media