SANDY — Following its lengthy two-week layoff, Real Salt Lake faces the Portland Timbers Sunday night in the second leg of the Western Conference Final series in the last step in its pursuit to get to this season's MLS Cup Championship.
It’s a familiar situation for the Salt Lake club, and much of its roster, and the feelings in the locker room, are similar to its 2009 postseason run when it went on to win the MLS Cup title.
“It’s two different teams, but there's similarities,” RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando told ESPN 700 Thursday. “For me, more so in the locker room feeling right now — everybody believes, the spirits are high and everybody just kind of has a good attitude right now. In 2009, nobody believed in us except for the people in the locker room, and that’s the feeling that we’re getting right now.”
The Salt Lake club traveled Friday afternoon to Portland sporting a camo-khaki combo travel attire. RSL enters the match up 4-2 on the aggregate score, but knows it will still need to battle to make it to the MLS Cup.
“We’re going to go about it like it’s 0-0,” said Rimando. “We’re going to try to dictate the game, press them as much as they are trying to press us. We can’t go in there with the mindset that we’re 2-0 up and try to defend, we’ve never played well that way, we never have ever, and we just play better when we are an attacking, self-possession team.”
RSL head coach Jason Kreis had the same mindset a few days earlier about what his roster will need to do when it takes the pitch inside JELD-WEN Field Sunday night.
“This is a very dangerous team in Portland and playing in what I think is easily the most difficult place to play in the entire league,” Kreis told ESPN 700 earlier this week. “So we’ve got some real big things that we’re up against this weekend and we’re going to need to be at our best if we hope to move on.”
Sunday’s meeting in Portland will be the third meeting between the two sides inside JELD-WEN this season — a place where RSL has been the only MLS club this season to fare well as it has walked out with two draws in the regular season competition this year.
“Whenever we go up there, we’re just ready to play, and there is something about their team that we get up for,” said Rimando. “If it’s there or if it’s home, we seem to just get our helmets on and just want to battle. Luckily it’s been going our way.”
Sitting down two goals on the aggregate, the Claret and Cobalt are ready for whatever the Timbers bring on Sunday, and they know Portland will bring it full force as it fights for its place in the 2013 MLS Cup match.
“They’re definitely going to be on their front studs, they are going to want to come out right from the get-go,” said Rimando. “The fans are going to definitely get them into the game as our fans did for us. They are going to try to get behind us, try to create as many chances as they can, but so are we. We’re not going to sit back either, we’re going to go at them, we’re going to try to score a goal. They can’t come and just try to get one goal, they’ve got to get two, and that’s going to leave them open in the back for us to get some opportunities as well.”
The RSL side will be without two regulars due to injury, RSL defender Chris Wingert and forward Alvaro Saborio, who were both ruled out by Kreis this week and did not travel with the club to Portland. Wingert is recovering from a fractured rib and pneumothorax, which he picked up in the club’s last match against Portland Nov. 10, while Saborio is out for the match with a hip flexor strain.
If the two sides find themselves tied on aggregate after the 90-minute regulation Sunday night, two 15-minute extra-time halves will be played. Following extra time, if the two sides are still tied, a penalty kick situation will determine the series.
The winner of the WCF series will advance to the MLS Cup on Dec. 7 and face the East victor — either Sporting Kansas City or the Houston Dynamo, who face off for leg two of the Eastern Conference final series today in Sporting Park. Kira Terry is a sports writer covering Real Salt Lake for KSL.com. Follow her on Twitter, @kiraterry.