SANDY — As far as Jason Kreis is concerned, the playoffs have already started for Real Salt Lake as it continues to jockey for playoff position.
The top three seeds in the Western Conference get a first-round bye, and heading into this weekend RSL is tied with Los Angeles for third place, two points behind Seattle.
"All these games are so important about where you stand in the standings, we want to at least get third. Hopefully some other teams will lose and we'll pop up to second or first, who knows," said keeper Nick Rimando.
Real Salt Lake is in great position to pick up three points on Saturday with eighth-place Portland coming to town for the 6 p.m. kickoff.
Incredibly, RSL might actually have the services of leading scorer Alvaro Saborio as well. The striker sprained his shoulder in Tuesday's dramatic victory in Panama, and the team originally feared he'd be out two to four weeks.
Saborio, however, participated in Friday's light training at Rio Tinto Stadium and wants to play.
"He wants to play tomorrow. Doctors are saying it's mostly a pain issue, but he is at risk. We've got to, in the end, make an intelligent decision, but from my point of view he's in contention," Kreis said.
Saborio leads Real Salt Lake in scoring this year with 14 goals, and leads the team in appearances with 28.
If Saborio does play against Portland, he's at risk of injuring the shoulder further if he falls on it awkwardly, which could keep him on the shelf for an entire month.
For an RSL team that's scored just twice in the past four matches, the absence of Saborio could be significant. That said, defender Nat Borchers noted it might not be a bad thing to get fresh ideas on the field.
"On the one side, Sabo is a beast in the air. He wins everything. But I think sometimes we rely too much on his size up there and maybe it's better to change things up there. Have Paulo in there and play to his feet and build the attack a little bit more, which we've been trying to do," Borchers said.
Even though the attack has been an issue the past couple months, defensively Real Salt Lake has been rock solid with four shutouts in its past five matches — and the lone goal during that stretch was the penalty kick in Houston.
Fatigue could be an issue against Portland this Saturday after traveling back 4,000 miles from Panama just a few days earlier, but the Timbers will be tired as well. They're coming off a 2-2 draw at San Jose on Wednesday, a match they led 2-0 in the 62nd minute.
Borchers doesn't believe Portland will come to Rio Tinto Stadium with a negative attitude after allowing a stoppage-time equalizer to Chris Wondolowski.
"They got two goals on the road against a very good team so I think they're going to have a lot of confidence coming in here against us," Borchers said.
Real Salt Lake prevailed in both meetings with Portland this year, a 3-0 win at Rio Tinto Stadium in July and a 3-2 come-from-behind win in Portland back in March.
"It's huge. Every single game from here on out is absolutely critical for us," said Kreis. "I really feel like the playoffs have started."
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