by Kali Korbis, Salt Lake City
Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers are about to get very well-acquainted with each other.
Starting with Wednesday night’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinal match at Rio Tinto Stadium, the two teams will meet 3 times within 24 days. It will be the first Open Cup semifinal appearance for both sides.
Wednesday night will also mark Will Johnson’s return to Salt Lake City after being dealt to Portland during the off-season after several successful seasons with RSL, including the 2009 MLS Cup winning season. Fellow Timbers Ryan Johnson and Rauwshan McKenzie also had short stints in Salt Lake earlier in their careers.
The Real-Timbers matchup looks to be incredibly competitive as the two sides currently sit just three points apart in the MLS Western Conference standings.
Moreover, both teams have energetic young coaches in Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter that have drawn a number of comparisons in terms of style.
Porter told MLSsoccer.com:
“I’ve been looking forward to this matchup probably since I took the job. I like the style that they play, and the style they play is similar to our style so I’ve probably followed their team more than I’ve followed any other team prior to getting this job.”
In addition, both teams boast a well-balanced attack; Portland has five players who have scored four or more goals in 2013, while Real has had 14 different scorers in the last 17 matches.
Fortunately for RSL, Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert will be available after serving suspensions in league play, giving Kreis some options for his starting back four. Carlos Salcedo is officially listed as questionable as he recovers from gall bladder surgery, but could start at center back, where Real has less depth.
Meanwhile, Portland’s Diego Chara is likely a game-time decision as he recovers from a toe injury.
With perhaps a rueful look back at Saturday’s physical encounter with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Porter applauded RSL’s style of play:
“It will make for an entertaining game, more than anything, a football game, which is nice because we’ve had some games recently that haven’t been, well they’ve been football games, they’ve been more American football games.
This will be a game where the ball is on the ground and the game will be decided on the football, not on the tackles and the fouls. I think it will be a nice game for people to watch.”
The winner of Wednesday’s match will host the Open Cup final, as determined by a coin flip. Should the Timbers win, the match would be held on September 24 at Jeld-Wen Field; if Real wins on Wednesday, the final would be held on October 1 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Beltran said of the Open Cup tournament:
“It’s a trophy, I want to win it. I want to win a trophy this year for this club, for the fans, for everyone, so why not put a bunch of emphasis on it, why not make our stand in the Open Cup?”
Two sides who have had less positive MLS seasons play in the other semi final at Toyota Park where DC United visit the Chicago Fire. Fire sit 15th in MLS and United rock bottom at 19th.