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MLS PREVIEW: Late-season 0-0 draw, winning mind-set give Timbers confidence going to RSL

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland defender Michael Harrington (right) heads the ball away in front of Timbers defender Pa Modou Kah during Thursday's win against the Seattle Sounders.Portland Timbers defender Jack Jewsbury says Real Salt Lake has had his club’s number this season.

Counting the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Timbers are 0-2-2 against RSL, including a 4-2 loss on Aug. 30 — Portland’s worst defeat of the season.

The Timbers will have their chance to get the last laugh, though, when they face Real Salt Lake for the MLS Western Conference championship, with games Sunday in Utah and Nov. 24 at Portland.

“We have a bitter taste in our mouth, and it’s a team we want to take care of when it means the most,” Jewsbury says.

The Timbers advanced to the conference championship round after defeating the Seattle Sounders 5-3 on aggregate goals.

Real Salt Lake beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 aggregate.

RSL needed 30 minutes of extra time on Thursday to advance, though.

With the match being played on Sunday because of a FIFA competition next week, the extra 30 minutes Salt Lake had to play could be to Portland’s advantage.

“We’re in the same situation, except Salt Lake actually played an extra half an hour in their game,” Timbers defender Michael Harrington says.

That said, the Timbers will have to deal with the altitude in the Salt Lake City area.

“We’re going to fly in Saturday,” striker Ryan Johnson says. “We’ve got to think about the altitude. But we have a bunch of professionals on this team. We’ll be ready for the match.”

One advantage the Timbers will have is that RSL plays a diamond formation similar to that used by the Sounders.

“The nice thing is that we just played Seattle, and they play a diamond,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter says. “So we’re really in a rhythm. That’s a real key in the turnaround. There’s not a ton of tactical changes we’re going to have to make. A lot of the things we wanted to exploit against Seattle we want to exploit against Salt Lake.

“Our guys will have a lot of confidence knowing that we just faced a really talented team in Seattle playing a diamond. Now we go face another really talented team playing a diamond.”

In the first three matches against the Timbers, Real Salt Lake had little problem scoring goals. In the U.S. Open Cup, RSL defeated Portland 2-1. Then came a 3-3 draw on Aug. 21 and the 4-2.

The last time the clubs faced each other, however, the Timbers defense was outstanding. Portland played Salt Lake to a 0-0 draw Oct. 19 at Jeld-Wen Field, and the Timbers did not give up a shot on goal.

“The last time we played Salt Lake we played very well,” Porter says. “It wasn’t a win. But we didn’t let them have a shot on goal. That was a really positive performance. Now we just need to get the attack cranked up.”

Harrington says the Timbers defense is at its best when the players are aggressive.

“We have to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing for the past couple of months,” Harrington says. “We have to continue to be on the front foot and pressing. That’s when we’re at our best, and that’s how we’re going to approach these next couple of games.”

The Timbers offense has struggled against RSL, in large part because Salt Lake likes to pinch in toward the middle on defense and the Timbers like to attack through the middle. Midfielder Darlington Nagbe says Portland will have to change its tactics a bit in the conference championship series.

“It’s been tough (on offense),” Nagbe says. “We haven’t been able to get it going as much as we’d like to. They’re pinched in, and we like to play through the middle a lot. We’ve got to try to find outside backs and outside mids and try to get some good service in as we go forward.”

Johnson says he does not believe that any of the Timbers will leave Portland during the two-week break before the second game of the series -- even if they are called up for national team duty.

“I’m not going to leave if anybody calls me,” says Johnson, who has played for the Jamaican national team. “I know (Jamaican goalkeeper) Donovan (Ricketts) won’t. I don’t think anybody is going to leave at this point if they get called up.”

While Real Salt Lake may have had the Timbers' number during the season, defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso says the playoffs are a whole different breed of cat.

“It’s going to be a different matchup because of the playoffs,” Danso says. “We’ll see how the game is going to play out.”

Johnson says the Timbers will be going to Salt Lake City to win.

“We think we’re going to beat them,” Johnson says. “That’s our mind-set. We don’t have the mind-set that anybody is our Kryptonite. Nobody is our Kryptonite. We’re going to win the match.”