Match Preview – Portland Timbers vs Real Salt Late

Simply no rest for the wounded warriors this weekend as they will look to wrestle and will their way to a win in Rio…

  • Lots that can be offered on the history already made this season and the past between these teams and I’ll leave that to those better scripting stories of players and tales of agony or ecstasy.
  • If you’ve been following me at all you know I prefer to dig into evidence of team performance in the past as a way to plot trends that may help understand all that is going on behind the scenes.
  • To get started today here’s three diagrams focusing on just the essential outputs of the game. Points in the League Table, Goals For and Goals Against.

Portland Timbers…




  • For those tracking it would appear that as Portland gets better defensively they get more points and as they get worse defensively they drop more points.
  • That pretty much should convince most that strong defense is critical if Portland is going to be able to sustain their chances of making the playoffs.
  • Note also that as Portland’s Goals For drop their Points in the League Table increased!?!  And when they’ve increased their goal output between June and July their points per month have decreased!
  • Note that these are team statistics and the Timbers have had a number of changes in their back-four throughout the season… this isn’t about one player or just Donovan Ricketts this is about the team, as a whole, playing defense.

How about Real Salt Lake?



For Real it would appear things are a bit different for two reasons…

  • Consistency in defending from May till now but with a MUCH higher goals against than Portland (comparison Diagram offered next).
  • The telling view to me is the drop in goals between May and June along with an increase in league points.
  • On the other hand for July they increased their goal output but only got four points by beating Dallas, drawing with the Union while dropping games against New York and Sporting.
  • So in essence Real’s defense can drive positive point production but this also points to the Real offense not indicating point production – which to me translates to this…

In conclusion:  Real are vulnerable in defense and can be scored on and the Timbers had great chances the first game in Rio and in all likelihood will have great chances tonight – what has held the Timbers back has been their defense!

Now the comparison of goals against and goals for:





  • There is pretty clear evidence that Real Salt Lake let in more goals, on average, than Portland for most of the season, and the totals don’t lie either (Real 33 GA & PTFC 26).
  • The overall defensive swoon for Portland has only just occurred recently; in each month since after the first two games the Portland Timbers defense has been pretty stingy; up until an increase in goals against starting in June and working to now.  They haven’t quite reached the sieve status they had in March but it is climbing.
  • As for Real; noted before they have been consistently on the rise for goals against in the month of June to July but they have tailed off a bit with August near completion.
  • So like it or not in order for Portland to take three points it really comes down to getting that clean sheet and popping home a ‘down your throat’ goal from atop the 6 yard box.

So with that here’s some final offerings for your consideration in setting the conditions, or, recognizing the conditions going into this game…

From an attacking standpoint…

  • The Timbers like to possess the ball and offer up ‘short-medium passes’ for the most part as they move the ball up the pitch.
  • Real Salt Lake has the same approach; both teams are in the top five across all of MLS for passes completed across the entire pitch; you don’t get those stats by launching long balls all day.  Capt. Obvious here – there will be action… duh!
  • The Timbers will push forward down the wings (maybe the right side a bit more than the left with Powell’s speed now) but they will also push forward, when entering the final third (down the middle).
  • Real Salt Lake doesn’t have the same exact approach running their Diamond 4-4-2; they may tend to play higher and wider in delivering crosses from just atop and outside the 18 but both teams will have the same objective.
  • Deliver the ball as much as possible “into” the center of the 18 yard box in order to score a goal.

From a defensive standpoint…

  • Both teams will look to sustain a tight back four and look to shut down penetration ‘into’ the 18 and six yard box (down the throat).  With not knowing McKenzie it’s hard to say how successful Portland will be in that area but it is likely that both Chara and Zemanski will play a ‘two-pivot’ approach (CP’s words) – my words (A bucket approach) in ‘response’ to how they will defend the Salt Lake attack.
  • Real, on the other hand will probably rely on Beckerman to man the area atop the 18 while relying on their interior/outside midfielders to help close space down the wings but looking to ‘press forward’ down the middle in attack to counter to much forward Timber progress.
  • Ryan Johnson has shown, and continues to show his value when playing with his back to goal or working to find through-balls when the back-four play a bit higher.  Borchers is not fast so a chance is there to exploit.
  • If the defense for Salt Lake is going to get penetrated to create goal scoring opportunities it should come from the middle – that has been the bread and butter area for Portland the entire year and if you’ve read this previous article of mine you should understand my views.

From an individual player standpoint…

  • Any individual player can impact and influence the outcome of a game in which two top attacking teams go toe-to-toe… set-pieces can win games and lose games but with both teams having pedigree attackers a game can be won or lost through the run of play as well…
  • Valeri might have a great game, so could Nagbe or Beckerman or Saborio – it’s all good but even with those 2 guys from each team there are 9 other guys for each who can win or lose this game.

Next up Match Analysis… Game 2, MLS Regular Season, Timbers versus Real.



Chris Gluck

Chris Gluck

I have been covering the Portland Timbers and Major League Soccer, as a community blogger/analyst for the Columbian Newspaper, since June, 2012. Since then my involvement in soccer analysis has expanded to include participating in the Regional Emmy Award Winning Soccer City PDX TV Show (Comcast Sports Northwest). My unique analytical approach has been published in Europe and presented at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014. I also appear regularly as a co-host on Rose City Soccer Show and the Yellowcarded Podcast. You can find my work on, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.

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