Real Salt Lake will treat Wednesday’s game against the Portland Timbers like the first game of the postseason, knowing they cannot afford to slip up.
RSL lost 4-3 to the San Jose Earthquakes at the weekend, leaving them one place and two points below the playoff line with two games of the regular season to play.
Pablo Mastroeni is confident his side will bounce back from that disappointment, however, ahead of a daunting final stretch in which they host Portland and then visit Sporting Kansas City.
The Timbers are relatively comfortable in fourth place in the West, but Sporting KC are still fighting for the top seed.
“The guys are in a good way,” Mastroeni told ESPN 700. “Every game that we’ve come up short, we’ve found a way to dig deep and bounce back.
“Being in front of our home supporters, I look forward to a great performance, a great atmosphere and hopefully a great result.”
He added: “[The players] obviously understand what’s at stake.
“The way I’ve been framing it is tomorrow’s the first game of the playoffs for us. It’s not to get in the playoffs, it’s a playoff game. It’s a home game, a playoff game, one we’ve got to take on.
“The mindset coming off the San Jose game has been really hyper-focused. The guys are dialled in. I guess the focus is on me to take some of that responsibility off them.”
For Portland, Giovanni Savarese has also been emphasising the importance of the game to RSL, expecting to face a highly motivated opponent.
“It’s about making sure that the players understand what is at stake, that they understand how important this match is, also for the other team that we’re playing against,” he said. “We have a mindset that we have certain goals to achieve.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Real Salt Lake – Albert Rusnak
Mastroeni picked out Rusnak as one player who could take on added responsibility this week. The midfielder has 21 goal involvements this season, including three goals in his past two games, and needs to be influential again.
Portland Timbers – Diego Chara
Portland’s previous game was also against San Jose, and Chara was on the scoresheet, but he will have a more important defensive role containing Rusnak this time if the RSL man fires.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Including the 2018 playoff meeting, Portland have scored in 16 straight games against RSL dating back to a scoreless draw in March 2015. The Timbers have scored in more consecutive MLS games against just one team: 17 versus FC Dallas from 2012 to 2018.
– Real Salt Lake’s club-record seven-match home winning streak in league play ended with a 4–3 defeat to San Jose on Saturday. RSL conceded nearly as many goals to the Earthquakes as they did in all seven matches during the winning streak (five).
– The Timbers have tied the club’s MLS-era record with 15 victories this season. The previous two seasons Portland recorded 15 regular season wins they reached MLS Cup (2015, 2018).
– Damir Kreilach has contributed to goals in eight of his past 10 games (seven goals, four assists), taking him to 24 goal contributions this season (15 goals, nine assists). Only one player has contributed to more goals in a single regular season for RSL: Jeff Cunningham (27) in 2006.
– With two games left, Portland hold the fourth spot in the West despite a negative goal difference. Since the Timbers joined MLS in 2011, only four teams finished in the top four in their conference without a positive goal difference, most recently DC United in 2015.