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Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers report card: MLS Western Conference Finals, leg 1

Published: Monday, Nov. 11 2013 12:21 a.m. MST

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Tactics: Jason Kreis started the usual backline of Wingert and Beltran on the wings with Schuler and Borchers in the middle. Chris Wingert left the game in the 33rd minute with a rib injury and was replaced by Lovell Palmer. Wingert, Palmer and Beltran all played key roles in providing attacking and defensive width for the RSL diamond while Schuler and Borchers maintained relatively conservative positioning all night long.

Chris Wingert played 33 minutes Sunday night, which weren't 33 of his better minutes. First, he made an uncharacteristically poor decision to knock Diego Valeri off the ball and to the ground in the 13th minute that put Will Johnson behind the ball to blast it over the RSL wall and past Nick Rimando for the opening goal of the game. At some point during this time, Wingert suffered a broken rib. He tried to tough it out but it was clearly impacting his ability to stay with Portland speedsters Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara, let alone the crafty Valeri. He was replaced by Lovel Palmer.

Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler are as solid a central defense as any team in the playoffs this season. Borchers has been savvy and surprisingly physical during the playoffs, and between Portland’s big and physical front men in Ryan Johnson and his replacement Jose Adolfo Valencia, Borchers had to be Sunday night. He was very good all night, but the final seconds of the game were a testament to the importance of maintaining concentration until the whistle blows. Borchers got caught ball watching as Jack Jewsbury sent a perfectly targeted cross to Borcher’s mark, Frederic Piquionne, who rose up over Borchers and slammed it into the back of the net to make the score 4-2 and to make game two a little more intriguing too.

Chris Schuler is becoming the toast of the town in Salt Lake City. After returning to active duty a little more than a month before the playoffs, he has been totally reliable on defense, but so far in the playoffs, he is RSL’s leading scorer after heading home another rocket Sunday night to even the score in the 36th minute.

Tony Beltran is key to the success of RSL’s diamond midfield formation, with his ability to get forward into the attack to provide critical width and his speed getting back on defense. Beltran is known as a one-on-one defender, and like most he has to be goal-side to be effective. When Beltran struggles in games, it’s when he is out of balance and his forward momentum keeps him from getting back to defend outside the 18-yard box. Sunday night was not one of those nights. He was balanced, he was dangerous on offense, and he was effective on defense.

Lovel Palmer (sub '33) came on for a wounded Chris Wingert and played very well. He showed off his athleticism and speed and was equal to Tony Beltran’s balance from the right side by getting forward into the attack when needed but back on defense to keep Portland’s forwards contained.

Grade: B-
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JP
Chandler, AZ

You list Lovel Palmer as starting in place of Beltran and as subbing in for Wingert. Which is it?

La Furia Roja
FARMINGTON, UT

@JP

Good catch. Palmer didn't start, it was Beltran from the beginning and I think he played really well. Also, as great a finisher as Sabo is I really like Devon's hustle back on defense and I think he fits better with the overall team concept. He's not near the finisher, but he's also not near the Diva that Sabo is. Great game, very entertaining. A two-week delay between leg 1 and leg 2 is soooo painful.

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