Portland, OR – The Portland Timbers have the opportunity to go level with Real Salt Lake atop the Western Conference standings when the two sides meet at Jeld-Wen Field on Wednesday.
Salt Lake enters the match in sole possession of first place with 41 points on the season, but third-place Portland holds two games in hand and could close the gap with a victory over the Claret and Cobalt.
The Timbers are coming off of a 2-1 home defeat of the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday in a showing that head coach Caleb Porter hailed as a complete and professional performance.
"I thought it was a very professional performance for the 95 minutes," Porter said after the match. "Part of that was, I think, the mentality and how we started the game, for sure. That was something that we wanted to do better. I thought we did. That was one of our better first halves of the year, if not the best, so that got us off to a good start.
"Second half, a lot of times, it's about managing a game, and I thought we managed it brilliantly the last 20 minutes, especially. The guys who went into the game, Jose (Valencia) and Kalif (Alhassan), I thought did a nice job for us, and everybody else, just did what they needed to do to get the three points. In MLS, that's sometimes what it takes. It's not always going to be pretty, you got to grind through it and get it done. And these guys did it tonight."
Salt Lake, meanwhile, was on the receiving end of a 4-2 drubbing by the Los Angeles Galaxy at the StubHub Center on Saturday.
The Claret and Cobalt are a virtual lock to make the postseason, leading head coach Jason Kreis to put more emphasis on the overall response in Portland as opposed to the final result.
"I think it's going to have to be about the response, not necessarily too focused on the results," Kreis said. "We need to respond extremely positively, we need to put in the works and be ready for a difficult opponent on Wednesday in a difficult building and just give your best because frankly, if I'm completely honest with myself, I don't really feel like everyone gave their best tonight, I think there was more to give."
Wednesday's tilt will mark the first of three meetings between the two clubs. They will square off at Rio Tinto Stadium on August 30 before a potentially crucial meeting with playoff positioning implications at Jeld-Wen on October 19.