Real Salt Lake-Timbers Preview
Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese says opponents Real Salt Lake are in the Western Conference Final on merit and cannot be considered a "Cinderella story".
RSL finished seventh in the West in the regular season but has already pulled off upsets against Seattle and Sporting Kansas City in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
After overcoming the division's second and third best sides, fourth-seeded Portland is next up for Real Salt Lake as it looks to progress past this stage for just a third ever time.
Portland knocked out the top-seeded Colorado Rapids in the last round, having earlier seen off Minnesota United, and Savarese is expecting another tough test on Saturday.
"RSL is not only a team for the playoffs, they've been a difficult team to play against through the entire season," Savarese said. "Now even more so, they come in with confidence. They're flying high, they've been able to play well in these last two matches, so it's going to be a very difficult game.
"We're not fooled into thinking this is a Cinderella story. This is not a Cinderella story. This is a good team that is coming here with good players to play a good match."
RSL has been playing under the watch of interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni for the past three months following the shock departure of Freddy Juarez.
Mastroeni is now just two games away from guiding Real to the ultimate prize in MLS and does not want the journey to end just yet.
"We can only gain from this experience. This is a beautiful experience," he said. "The players believe in the project and enjoy the environment that we've tried to create, which allows them to express themselves in a way that's authentic to them.
"It's humbling because I coach soccer for not the soccer reasons. I coach soccer for the human reasons."
Portland Timbers - Larrys Mabiala
DR Congo international Mabiala struck right at the very end of the game to earn the Timbers their 1-0 win over the Rapids in the semifinals. Mabiala also scored against Minnesota in the opening round, making him the first Portland defender to score twice in a single postseason.
Real Salt Lake - Anderson Julio
Atletico San Luis loanee Julio scored Real Salt Lake's equalizer against Sporting before Bobby Wood completed the late comeback. That was Julio's league-leading sixth goal as a substitute in 2021 and also the most in RSL history, overtaking the five scored by Olmes Garcia in 2013.
- The Timbers won all three regular-season meetings with Real Salt Lake, scoring 12 times in those games, the most RSL has ever allowed against a team in a single season (including playoffs). Portland has scored at least three goals in all three games – no team in MLS history has faced an opponent four or more times in a single season (including playoffs) and scored at least three goals in every game.
- Only one team in the last 15 MLS seasons has faced a team four or more times and won every meeting in a single season (including playoffs): The LA Galaxy against Seattle in 2010 (P4 W4).
- Portland has won four of its last five home games against RSL (D1), with the last three (W2 D1) seeing 20 goals scored (Portland 13, Real Salt Lake 7), for an average of 6.67 per match. Only LAFC vs. LA Galaxy (22 from August 2019 to July 2020) and the Red Bulls vs. Chicago (21 from October 2013 to September 2015) have seen more goals scored in a three-match span at one venue in league history (incl. playoffs).
- This will be the third postseason meeting between Portland and Real Salt Lake, with RSL ending the Timbers' season in each of the first two ties. Real Salt Lake won 5-2 on aggregate in the 2013 Conference Final and 2-1 in the First Round in 2019. The lone playoff meeting between the sides in Portland was a 1-0 RSL victory in the second leg in 2013, one of RSL's three all-time wins in Portland (D6 L6).
- Real Salt Lake is looking to become the first team in MLS history to reach the MLS Cup without playing a home playoff game. The only team to reach the MLS Cup without a home playoff win was the New York Red Bulls in 2008.
Updated December 3, 2021