Wed, 26 Jan 2022

Timbers host Real Salt Lake in surprise West final

Field Level Media
04 Dec 2021, 06:55 GMT+10

The Portland Timbers host Real Salt Lake on Saturday in a Western Conference final few were expecting when the playoffs began.

The fourth-seeded Timbers may have won 10 of their last 14 regular season games, but oddsmakers rated them substantially behind the top three seeds Colorado, Seattle and Kansas City.

Real Salt Lake were a far longer shot as the No. 7 seed, needing Damir Kreilach's stoppage-time winner against Sporting KC on the final day of the regular season just to reach the playoffs.

But Portland ousted West No. 1 seed Colorado 1-0 on Larrys Mabiala's 90th-minute goal in a Thanksgiving Day conference semifinal.

And RSL took out Seattle on penalties following a scoreless draw in the first round, then beat Kansas City on a stoppage-time strike from Bobby Wood to reach their first conference final since 2013.

The Timbers swept all three of these teams' regular-season meetings and will enjoy the home-field advantage. But they'll also be without two of their best attackers.

Sebastian Blanco, who had seven goals and seven assists in 24 appearances, suffered a leg injury that resulted in his early second-half exit against Colorado.

And 10-goal-scorer Dairon Asprilla will be suspended after he was red carded for striking Colorado's Braian Galvan in second-half stoppage time.

"As much as we can complain and think because it's the reality, two important players aren't available ... we cannot stay there and think that way," said Portland coach Giovanni Savarese. "We believe in ourselves, we believe in the group, we believe we are strong, and we believe whoever's going to play a part in it is going to get the job done."

Meanwhile, RSL's Albert Rusnak is returning after missing the two previous playoff games in the league's health and safety protocols. The Slovakian international had 11 goals and 11 assists in the regular season.

The Claret-and-Cobalt have also not allowed a non-penalty kick goal in the last 315 minutes, conceding only from the spot against Kansas City.

"I think it's defensive mentality first," RSL defender Andrew Brody said. "We know that if we can keep a clean sheet at the back, not take any unnecessary risks back there, then we put ourselves with a chance to win the game."

--Field Level Media

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