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Home matches against Portland = juicy opportunity

FC Dallas v Real Salt Lake

SANDY, UT - MAY 26: Alvaro Saborio #15 of Real Salt Lake celebrates his goal against FC Dallas during the second half of an MLS soccer game May 26, 2012 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

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Ever since getting taken to the Texas cleaners in a 5-0 loss to Dallas, the Portland Timbers have actually resembled a soccer team.

Not a good one – but Gavin Wilkinson’s men have risen to “competitive,” at least.

The Timbers are a respectable 2-2-4 since July, with a minus-2 goal difference. This latest Kris Boyd blow won’t help things. Then again, if we’re being honest, Timbers’ performance isn’t going to suffer much for it, either.

(MORE: Boyd’s injury seals the deal on his season; he was a bust in 2012)

But the beleaguered Timbers are what they are. And “what they are” for the rest of the season is an opportunity for Western Conference teams. Especially when the Timbers are on the road, where they remain seriously vulnerable despite coming so agonizingly close on Wednesday to the season’s first win away from Jeld-Wen Field.

There’s no other way to put it. Over the last month-and-change in MLS regular season play, every home match against Portland, Colorado and Chivas USA represents three points that simply must be had. Period. No excuses.

As teams jostle for playoff positioning, attempting to dodge that early 4th-vs.-5th post-season contest, the clubs that take care of business vs. the laggards of the West will be on more solid footing for the head-to-head matches against other contenders.

(Believe me, pressure doing what it does to clubs and individuals, the upsets are out there.)

So, Real Salt Lake, you are on the clock as Portland visits Utah tonight.

This would help RSL tremendously, as striker Alvaro Saborio (pictured) has apparently recovered far more quickly than expected from a shoulder injury.

From the visiting Timbers side, it’s all about the pride factor and not joining that small, dubious list of teams that go a full season without a single road win. Only four teams in 16 previous MLS seasons have done so.

Tonight’s contest kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.