Following their excellent win last time out, the Portland Timbers look to move one step closer to MLS Cup glory on Saturday, as they welcome Real Salt Lake to Providence Park (6.30pm ET; Live on Fox Sports). Can the visitors do something that they didn’t do during the regular season and beat the Timbers? This preview and predictions article aims to answer that, and provide some betting picks.
After building no shortage of momentum during the closing weeks of the regular season, winning three on the bounce, scoring a pleasing total of eight goals in the process, the Portland Timbers made light work of beating Minnesota at this venue during the first round of the playoffs, looking strong offensively in the process. Even though they were in hot form, going away to Colorado was never going to be easy, so it was something of a surprise when Giovanni Savarese’s men emerged victorious, and they had 34-year-old defender Larrys Mabiala, who notched in the 90th minute, to thank. Following that result, a home match against Real Salt Lake seems relatively straightforward, though is anything ever simple on the soccer field?
As for the visitors, well, they sort of fell into the playoffs following some poor end-of-season form, losing two of their last three, scoring in the final moments away against Sporting Kansas City to reach the postseason. They once again limped over the line when faced with what seemed to be an impossible task against Seattle in round one, but regardless of how they did it, they got the job done. They once again found a way during the last round, again facing SKC, who Freddy Juarez’s men got the better of thanks to a late turnaround, courtesy of goals from Anderson Andres Julio Santos and Bobby Wood, who popped up with a 91st minute winner. After some truly uplifting results, Saturday’s visitors probably feel like it’s meant to be and they are now unlikely to fear any team.
Timbers very much on top
This won’t be the second, nor the third time that the pair have met in 2021. Thanks to three regular-season matchups, this will be the fourth game between Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake this term, and things have well and truly gone the way of Saturday’s hosts, who’ve won three out of three against RSL this year. In the first meeting, Portland emerged victorious from a goal-filled encounter, winning by three goals to two, though they certainly didn’t dominate in terms of possession or efforts on goal. Ruthlessness on the counter saw them through. That was at Providence Park. Less than two months later, again on home soil, the Timbers picked up their second win in this fixture, this time running riot, scoring six and conceding one. They once again exploited RSL’s susceptibility to the counter.
At the start of November, it was Salt Lake’s turn to host, though they were unable to make home advantage pay, and revenge was not had. Instead, the Timbers won by three goals to one, exposing how easy Saturday’s visitors are to break against for the third time. After three victories, 12 goals for and only four against, Saverese’s men should be brimming with confidence.
Portland superior against the top teams
The hosts have by no means a superb record at home against the teams that made the playoffs in the west, but they did far better than RSL on the road against such opposition. At Providence Park, during the regular season, the Timbers won two, tied one and lost two against those teams that finished inside the coveted top seven.
Salt Lake also picked up two wins against top-seven teams, though they lost each of their other four on the road, suffering some heavy defeats, one of which came at this venue, as we know. When we consider the record of the Timbers in this fixture in conjunction with the fact that they did better at home than RSL did on the road against top-seven opposition, it is not at all hard to envisage a home win.
Hosts hard to oppose
No matter how we look at this fixture, the Portland Timbers are impossible to oppose. Not only do they have an outstanding record against Real Salt Lake this season, winning three out of three, scoring an impressive 12 goals in the process, but they arrive here in much better form than the visitors. While Juarez’s side have limped into the last four of the playoffs, somehow finding a way round Seattle, despite not having a shot on target in 120 minutes of soccer, Saturday’s hosts arrive in flying form having won five on the bounce.
Blanco back at it
Sebastian Blanco has long been a man for the big occasion and he once again showed that to be the case during the first playoff round. He fired in not once but twice against Minnesota, including a superb goal from range, and at the current odds, if a player prop is your thing, the talismanic figure stands out as a solid option. A regular-season average of 0.53 goals per 90 minutes is very promising, as is his average of 0.42 expected goals per 90 minutes. Let’s face it, if the Portland Timbers confirm favoritism, which on all available evidence, they really ought to, the Argentine, who also averages 3.28 shots per 90 minutes, is likely to have a big say.
So these are this preview’s Portland Timbers vs Real Salt Lake predictions and betting picks: