No Western Conference club has clinched a playoff berth with two games left in the season.
Portland (13-5-14) has 53 points to lead the conference and Real Salt Lake (15-10-7) has 52, with Los Angeles and Seattle at 51 apiece. The Timbers can clinch their first MLS postseason spot with a win or draw while Real Salt Lake can do so with a victory.
“Usually about two or three spots are at least shored up by at least this point, but in terms of the West where nobody has the little star by their name that they’ve clinched the playoffs is a bit surprising, but I think it’s good in that it keeps you on your toes and makes sure you’re sharp week in and week out,” Portland defender Jack Jewsbury said.
The Timbers are also tied with New York in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, although the Red Bulls own the tiebreaker. Portland has gone 4-0-2 in its last six matches and 11-0-3 in the past 14 at home.
“We feel like we’ve built a fortress at Jeld-Wen (Field),” coach Caleb Porter said. “We’ve very difficult to beat because we have the energy of the crowd and we play very aggressively at home and we play with a lot of confidence and I think to some extent teams are aware of that and they know that.”
There is reason for optimism for Real Salt Lake, which drew 3-3 at Portland on Aug. 21. RSL beat the Timbers twice at home in August by scoring six goals, including a semifinal victory in the U.S. Open Cup. That left Salt Lake at 5-0-2 in the last seven overall meetings.
“We know if we can somehow manage to get a win there, that will put us in a really good place,” coach Jason Kreis told Real Salt Lake’s official website. “Huge game, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be saying next week the next one’s just as big.”
Kreis will be missing one of his stars while Porter could be without one of his.
RSL playmaker Javier Morales is suspended due to yellow-card accumulation, although Kreis said the midfielder was suffering from an ankle injury anyway.
“Anytime you’re missing a big-time player like that, it’s a little bit difficult,” midfielder Ned Grabavoy said.
Portland is unsure of the status of Diego Valeri, who has scored in two of the three meetings with Salt Lake this year. Valeri, tied for the league lead with 12 assists, sat out Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Seattle with an adductor strain that has been bothering him over the last few weeks.
RSL has gone 1-2-1 in its last four league matches and also lost the U.S. Open Cup final to lowly D.C. United in that span.