Welcome to the liveblog of today's game. It goes live at 6:30. Refresh for the latest updates. This game is live on network television in Portland, but I haven't found a legal stream for it, perhaps because no such thing exists. If you have questions, comments or abuse, e-mail me or get me on Twitter @atomchak. I am desperate for feedback.
PREAMBLE: This is literally the match of Portland's nightmares. In this Timbers podcast, one fan says he has a dream in which Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler is chasing him and rapper Kendrick Lamar with a golf club.
That's because RSL has Portland's number. Portland has never won in Sandy, Utah. It has only ever beaten RSL once. And this year, Portland has yet to win a competitive game, while Real Salt Lake has yet to lose one.
That points to a fairly grisly game for Portland fans. This article by a Real Salt Lake blog underlines RSL's dominance of this fixture: the home team could field nine players who have scored or set up a goal against the Timbers today, with Costa Rica striker Alvaro Saborio and Argentine creator Javier Morales particularly effective against the Timbers.
That, as I wrote in my preview, is because RSL just does Portland's thing better than Portland itself, and with good reason since ball possession, short passing, positional interchanges and multifunctional players were RSL's thing back when Portland was still playing former coach John Spencer's paleolithic hoofball.
Not only that, but RSL's tactical formation matches up very well against Portland's and does a good job of capitalizing on the Timbers' weaknesses. Portland needs ball possession to win games, otherwise its vulnerable partnership in the center of defense is exposed. Salt Lake plays with four central midfielders to Portland's three, meaning the Timbers are outnumbered in that key zone.
Salt Lake also plays with two attackers up against two central defenders for the Timbers — most coaches try to ensure their central defenders outnumber the opposition's strikers by one — meaning the Timbers are at a numbers disadvantage there too. Not only that, but Portland's pairing of Pa Modou Kah and Futty Danso or Norberto Paparatto are slow and clunky, while RSL's potential strikers are all quick and sly in their movements, apt to pull the Timbers defenders into compromising positions and create space for Morales and his colleagues.
In theory, Portland's advantage should be in wide areas, where RSL has one defender each, while the Timbers have one defender and one attacker. In practice, all the Timbers' wide players favor moving inside rather than stretching the play to the flanks, and Portland is bad at creating goalscoring opportunities from wide positions.
Allegedly, Portland coach Caleb Porter spent his offseason creating a bespoke gameplan for Real Salt Lake. It better not be more of the same, because we've seen before that that doesn't work.
Real Salt Lake: Rimando; Beltran, Schuler, Borchers, Wingert; Mulholland, Beckerman, Grabavoy; Morales; Saborio, Garcia. bench: Attinella, Maund, Mansally, Velasquez, Gil, Plata, Sandoval
Portland: Ricketts; Jewsbury, Danso, Kah, Harrington; Chara, Johnson; Alhassan, Valeri, Nagbe; Urruti. bench: Weber, Powell, Paparatto, Nanchoff, Villafana, Zemanski, Fernandez
6:28. Lineup analysis: Luis Gil is only fit enough for the Real Salt Lake bench. US national team goalkeeper Nick Rimando returns in place of Jeff Attinella. Portland's only change is Jack Jewsbury in for Alvas Powell at right-back. Powell was on fire against Seattle, but Chivas USA winger Leandro Barrera repeatedly rinsed him last week. With RSL narrow in attack, Powell's pace and verticality might have been a better choice than the relatively staid Jewsbury, but maybe he'll help prevent the Timbers from being outnumbered at the back.
6:36. Oh no, the game has kicked off!!!!! RSL has a throw-in near the TImbers box.
2min: So far RSL has been dominant. Donovan Ricketts made one extremely unorthodox save with his pectoral muscle, rebounding the ball to Valeri, who looks like he's playing farther back than usual.
5min: Portland may be trying to counterattack in this game, but the Timbers' first attempt to do so was unpromising. Alhassan raced away with Maxi Urruti, Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe ahead of him. But he refused to look up and in the end, sent Nagbe down a blind alley.
7min: New dye job for Urruti, and the faintest of soul patches. Will it make the difference?
8min: The Rio Tinto grass is noticeably bald in patches. Several Timbers have lost their footing already. But the Timbers announcers are rhapsodizing it nonetheless.
9min: A nervous Nagbe, in a moment of insanity, saves a ball that's bouncing out off an RSL player, then tries to dribble past three opponents right outside the penalty area, ultimately coughing the ball up to Morales.
11min: Real Salt Lake has enjoyed a lot of the ball in the early exchanges, but there hasn't been too much penetration for them. Portland appears content to concede space on the wings and crowd the center on defense. Darlington Nagbe is particularly anarchic in his positioning. So far, so successful, considering Portland would probably be happy with a draw, and neither side has had a serious shot on target so far.
19min: Nagbe picks up the ball on the halfway line and decides it's time for a shot, smashing his way past Beckerman and then blazing behind Nat Borchers and into the area. He has such an advantage over the defender that he can afford to cut onto his stronger right foot and shoot high, but it's too close to Rimando. It was the best chance of the game so far and with Alhassan and Nagbe's pace and dribbling ability, Portland's counterattacking gameplan might just work.
26min: The game is a lot more stretched now. Real Salt Lake is trying to play the ball early, but so far Morales hasn't found the right pass for Saborio and Garcia to test the Timbers defense. Pa Modou Kah has already intercepted a couple of his passes. Also, the Timbers are dominating possession.
28min: A possession-based team is at its best when it can get its most dangerous players doubling up on defenders and exchanging passes. Alhassan and Nagbe just set Nat Borchers' head a-spinning by exchanging two or three passes in his immediate vicinity, but Alhassan's final ball was too long and Rimando collected it.
31min: Luke Mulholland has been the freest RSL attacker so far, for some reason. He's been dribbling up the left and causing Jewsbury problems, but so far he hasn't managed to get a pullback to the feet of a striker.
33min: Morales gobbles up Jewsbury's slipshod pass on the left wing and then fires the starting pistol on a footrace between Olmes Garcia and Futty Danso. Garcia has Danso beaten by miles and the Timbers stopper chops his opponent down from behind, just shy of the penalty box. He's lucky to escape a yellow card and lucky Morales isn't more accurate with the free kick.
37min: I was wrong. Futty Danso did in fact get a yellow card. The energy has gone out of the game a little since the Morales free kick, with the sides trading fouls and corners.
39min: The Timbers are doing a better-than-usual job of holding their shape defensively. Olmes Garcia just bamboozled Harrington on the right wing with a pair of flicks, then ran up the wing behind Kah onto Mulholland's long ball. Saborio was making a deadly run across Danso's face, and Garcia found him with a perfect pullback, but Danso managed to stay between Saborio and the goal and forced him to scoop the ball over Donovan Ricketts' crossbar.
43min: All of a sudden, the match has accelerated to 100 miles an hour. RSL's midfielders play about 700 short, crisp, one-touch passes that end with Schuler flicking the ball to Morales. He settles the ball with his outsole, looks up at his options and Chara seizes the moment to bully him off the ball and concede a free kick. But Morales' free kick is not up to his standards and it careens into the minivans of the Rio Tinto carpark.
46min: The sides are looking a little worn-out. Nagbe gets a pass in the opposition half, but nobody makes a supporting run and Grabavoy manages to poke the ball away from him. Then Schuler receives the ball at the halfway line, then, under no pressure, strokes it over the touchline. Now the players are trudging into the locker rooms for the halftime break.
HALFTIME THOUGHTS: The match has pulsated with quality, but the battle lines are in midfield; forays into both penalty boxes have been rare. Porter has evidently decided Portland's best hope is to defend like madmen, but a little farther back than usual. For the most part, that has prevented the kind of mismatches RSL exploited in knocking Portland out of last year's playoffs. RSL's best chances have come when Timbers players concede possession cheaply and allow breakaways. Jewsbury's positioning has been sound, but his contributions when the ball is near him have been disappointing.
MORE HALFTIME THOUGHTS: The Timbers are lucky Javier Morales' free kicks have been pretty bad today, but they've also done a good job of only fouling RSL players when it's absolutely necessary. Alhassan has done a good job of rushing Beckerman on the ball. MLS is full of deep-lying midfielders who look like gifted passers in MLS because nobody pressures them. Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso and Chicago's Jeff Larentowicz both look good on the ball, but neither they nor Beckerman has the technique to thrive under pressure.
HAIR/FASHION WATCH: Aside from Urruti's new highlights, we must also consider Nat Borchers' ginger mane, Kalif Alhassan's pencil mustache, and the grease and mustache Ben Zemanski is sporting on the bench. And that's without having seen follicle abomination Gata Fernandez has concocted. Oh, also Kyle Beckerman's whiteboy dreadlocks, which look even worse than usual today.
Beckerman's dreadlocks are what I would be having nightmares about.
The second half has kicked off.
47min: Kah spends too much time looking for a pass and Grabavoy steals the ball. Then Grabavoy, Mulholland, Morales, the ghost of Brigham Young and pretty much the entire state of Utah break into the Portland penalty area, but the shot is no good and Portland breathes a sigh of relief.
50min: Salt Lake is trying to slow the game down by keeping possession and stroking it around. Morales, Grabavoy and Wingert tiki the ball up the left wing, then taka it back to Schuler again. Presumably, the team in red is playing the long game, trying to wear down the Timbers defenders so they'll be vulnerable in the final stages.
52min: Kyle Beckerman shrugs off pressure from Alhassan and the pungent sea monster that lives on his head and punts the ball upfield. Garcia does well to hurry Danso into passing back to Ricketts, who just barely clears.
54min: Jewsbury has been a liability in possession. He tries to pick out Chara and Beckerman steams onto the ball, the furry octopus that lives on his head trailing behind, and forces Chara to foul. If Chara ends up getting a yellow card today, it will be because Jewsbury has put him in a compromising position.
55min: Good news for Timbers fans: Cubo Torres has scored for Chivas USA against the hated Sounders. Meanwhile, Wingert exchanges passes with Grabavoy and hurries to the touchline. Jewsbury, dogged in defense, manages to get across quickly enough to cut out his pullback. The Timbers have trouble clearing the ensuing corner, but cleared it is.
58min: Maximiliano Urruti thinks to himself, "What if I were a decisive, pacey, dangerous striker and not just a high-energy hustler?" and charges into the RSL penalty area, where he pummels the angle of post and bar with a left-footed strike through the tiny window of space Schuler allows him. Having answered his own question, he swings at fresh air closing on a clever angled lob by Valeri. And then rushes a shot when completely unattended running between the RSL center backs.
61min: Sub — La Gata Fernandez on, Diego Valeri off. Fernandez is now sporting a short back and sides hairstyle, rather than the peroxide Caesar do he used to favor.
63min: Gata's corner is way overhit and Kah tumbles into the advertising hoardings chasing it across the touchline.
64min: Johnson decides to go on a long, dribbling journey through the RSL half, crashing into three or four RSL players before playing the ball backwards. Jewsbury manages to squeeze a foul out of Grabavoy. The RSL crowd is making a booing-like noise. For some reason they hate Harrington. Sebastian Velasquez and Joao Plata are getting ready to come on.
66min: Grabavoy and Morales create a chance for Kyle Beckerman to take a long shot, but he slips as he fires it, as if his furry octopus was flailing its tentacles to put him off.
67min: Subs: Joao Plata and Sebastian Velasquez* for Garcia and Mulholland. *Speaking of ugly hair.
68min: Harrington plays an overpowered pass to Nagbe, who manages to take the venom out of it excellently, then dribbles at Velasquez. The Colombian does a very good job of staying with him, and the run comes to nothing.
70min: Kah clears the ball directly into Alhassan and, for a second, the ball is stationary, begging for an RSL player to take a shot. but Danso, I think, manages to hack it away.
71min: Velasquez has injected new movement and ingenuity for RSL. The Timbers seem to be under far more pressure than usual all of a sudden.
72min: Chris Wingert meanders on the ball into the Timbers area, with Portland apparently deciding that, if the left-footed defender wants to shoot on his right, that's a risk they're willing to invite. But then Wingert slips the ball to Morales, who is sprinting into the area, and he lasers a shot directly into the base of Ricketts' post. Johnson scrambles it clear.
76min: Since Velasquez's introduction, RSL has been completely in charge. In part, it's due to fatigue on the Timbers' part. Both Chara and Danso are moving gingerly. Now a sub. Michael Nanchoff on, Alhassan off. The Timbers are being worryingly slow to close players down. Morales just had time to stroke his chin, unfurl the newspaper and sip his tea before playing the ball to Grabavoy in the area.
78min: GOAAAALLLL!!!!!!!!! RSL 1-0 Timbers. Velasquez feeds Ned Grabavoy outside the area and he runs clean through on goal to sweep the ball beneath Ricketts.
80min: There was a massive gap between Jewsbury and Danso in the Timbers defense for the goal. The alien feasting on Beckerman's brains could have flown his starship through it, so running into it unchallenged was easy enough for Grabavoy.
82min: Johnson steals the ball off Velasquez, then plays a gorgeous looper over the top for Nanchoff, who charges up the left and comes within inches of dropping the ball right in front of Gata in the area. The Argentine was just so close!
83min: Portland's final sub. Alvas Powell on, Jewsbury off. That will allow Portland to do more attacking up the right. Powell's first action is to exchange passes with Fernandez.
85min: Kah, one leg of his shorts rolled up to expose a meaty buttock, steams the length of the field, then slips the ball deftly to Fernandez outside the area, but the goal does not come. Then Fernandez slides an outrageously precise pass between the defenders to release Powell one-on-one with Rimando. The keeper saves the Jamaican's shot with his legs. It was the Timbers' best chance of the half.
87min: Now Gata Fernandez, the best Timbers player since he came on, puts the ball within micrometers of Danso's pate in the six yard box from a free kick, but Rimando collects.
89min: Under no pressure from anyone who wasn't a space monster gorging itself on his brains, Beckerman plays a disastrous pass to La Gata. La Gata has Johnson free in the box, but he elects to beat Schuler and slam the ball at the top corner. Rimando's save is spectacular. The RSL keeper is now prostrate after a forceful challenge on the ensuing corner.
90min: Powell's movement, as usual, has been excellent in this half, but his decision-maiing on the ball has left something to be desired. Kah grapples with Morales outside the area and wins a foul off the RSL playmaker.
90min+2: Saborio wins a cheap free kick from Powell in his own penalty area. The replay shows it was a terrible call, since Saborio was doing the fouling. Now he's off and Devon Sandoval is on.
90min+4: Powell probably throws away the Timbers last chance by dribbling straight at Grabavoy.
90min+5: Portland's last chance: a free kick earned by Nagbe from Plata's foul. But Kah puzzlingly plays it square when there was only time to hump it into the box. There's the final whistle. Real Salt Lake 1-0 Portland Timbers.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Full of guts, hustle and skill, this was probably Portland's best performance of the season. Maximiliano Urruti squandered four gaping chances to score when the score was still tied. The striker clearly has talent and technique in abundance, and his energy to hustle defenders is vital to the way Portland plays, but he has also scored just three times since joining Portland and it must be demoralizing for the Timbers midfield to fashion so many beautiful opportunities, only to see the squandered.
RSL's keeper Nick Rimando was outstanding, playing like the creature gorging itself on Kyle Beckerman's scalp wasn't the only octopus on the pitch. None of his saves were truly jaw-dropping, but his confidence and assurance at the back is a massive boost to his team.
The Timbers' defensive organization must also be called into question. Many fans called for Jewsbury's return after Powell's struggles against Chivas USA's Leandro Barrera, but he was a liability in possession and he left miles of space for Grabavoy to charge into and score. It only takes one moment of slack concentration to erase an entire half's worth of gutsy, organized defending. Portland's next trip is to Houston, another difficult game. If the Timbers don't win there, they will return home without a win in two months of soccer.