Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers have played two entertaining matches this month, including a six-goal thriller last week.
Argentine playmakers Javier Morales of Real Salt Lake and Diego Valeri of Portland starred in that matchup and will be in the spotlight in Friday night's rematch in Utah.
These teams had not met this season until Real Salt Lake (13-8-6) posted a 2-1 home victory Aug. 7 in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
The next meeting was in Portland last Wednesday. Real Salt Lake substitute Cole Grossman scored in second-half stoppage time for a 3-3 draw.
"I think both games we were in, whether you talk about the possession stats, the shots, they were even games," Portland midfielder Ben Zemanski said. "And we're looking to go out there and tilt it in our direction this time."
Valeri is second in MLS with 11 assists and Morales is tied for third with nine. Valeri had a goal and an assist in last week's meeting while Morales converted a penalty kick.
"Both (are) extremely intelligent players," Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis told the league's official website. "I think both see the game very similarly; maybe a little bit different qualities in the two of them, but effectiveness (is) extremely high for both of them. Two of the best players in the league I think for sure."
Real Salt Lake will have a stronger team this weekend that it did for the last meeting since goalkeeper Nick Rimando was out with the flu, forward Alvaro Saborio was out with a calf strain and midfielder Kyle Beckerman was suspended.
Beckerman scored twice and Rimando returned for his eighth shutout in last Saturday's 4-0 rout of Columbus that Kreis called "the most complete match we've played the entire season."
Saborio, who has a team-high nine goals, missed a second straight game but could return Friday.
Portland (9-4-12) is unclear about the statuses of Will Johnson and Frederic Piquionne, who have missed the last three games. Johnson, who has six goals and three assists, has a right shoulder injury and Piquionne an ankle problem.
The Timbers have suffered the fewest losses in MLS, but one of them was Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Seattle that dropped the club to 0-3-3 in its last six league road games.
"Everyone knows we're a good team," forward Ryan Johnson said. "It's just a matter of showing it."
Johnson has a team-high eight goals, but none in his last seven road starts.
RSL leads MLS with 45 points but has played more matches than every team - two more than Portland. The Timbers are tied for third in the Western Conference with 39 points.
"It's a tight race and it's going to be the team that's hungry the most that gets into the playoffs and makes a run for the Cup," Zemanski said.
RSL will have Yordany Alvarez available after the midfielder sat out Saturday with a suspension for a red card from last week's meeting with Portland.
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- Real Salt Lake
- Diego Valeri
- Javier Morales