Just when Real Salt Lake got back a key player for the stretch run, it appears to have lost one.
Likely to be missing top scorer Alvaro Saborio, Salt Lake hopes Jamison Olave's return to MLS action can help it secure a playoff spot Saturday night in a matchup with a Portland Timbers club still seeking its first road victory.
Real Salt Lake (14-11-4) can clinch a fifth straight postseason berth with a win but probably will have to do it without Saborio. He'll reportedly miss at least two weeks after injuring his shoulder in Tuesday's 1-0 road win over Tauro in CONCACAF Champions League action.
The play on which he got hurt resulted in a penalty kick in stoppage time and he scored the winner, his ninth goal in 12 games overall. Of RSL's 38 goals in league play, Saborio has 14 - tied for second-most in MLS.
Olave, meanwhile, played Tuesday for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury July 31. The 2010 MLS defender of the year played the entire game as RSL recorded a fourth shutout in five matches.
"We've seen him working hard trying to get back to form," goalkeeper Nick Rimando told the team's official website. "This was a tough game to come into, but I thought he fared well. Anytime you post a zero, there really are no complaints."
The offense also has been posting plenty of zeros, totaling three goals during a 1-4-1 stretch in league play.
"As we've seen lately, we're struggling to score goals, struggling to create effective attacks," coach Jason Kreis said.
However, Kreis' club could move as high as second in the Western Conference on Saturday. RSL stands fourth despite being tied with third-place Los Angeles at 46 points because the Galaxy own the tiebreaker of goals scored.
Both teams trail Seattle by two, and it's critical to finish among the top three to avoid opening the playoffs with an elimination game against the West's fifth seed.
Salt Lake visits Seattle and Los Angeles to open October after facing conference-worst Chivas USA next Saturday.
That's the only West team with fewer points than Portland (7-14-8). The main reason the Timbers are all but assured of missing the playoffs is their 0-10-4 record away from home, on track to become the fifth team in MLS history to go an entire season without a road victory.
They nearly avoided that fate Wednesday, taking a 2-0 lead at San Jose on Danny Mwanga's second goal of the game in the 62nd minute. However, Portland would give up two goals to league leader Chris Wondolowski and settle for a draw, extending its road winless streak to 16.
"I think we had a good performance tonight against a very good team on their home field," Mwanga told the league's official website. "So I think we just have to take the positive things out of that going into the Salt Lake game."
The Timbers are 2-1-2 over their last five matches but have lost both meetings this season with RSL. Saborio keyed both wins, scoring the opening goal in a 3-2 victory at Portland on March 31 and notching a hat trick in a 3-0 home win July 7.
- Real Salt Lake
- Alvaro Saborio
- Portland Timbers