Real Salt Lake’s dominance of the Portland Timbers continues. With goals from Chris Schuler, Robbie Findley, Devon Sandoval, and Javier Morales, RSL claimed a 4-2 win over the West’s top seed, giving Jason Kreis’s team a two-goal in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference final lead ahead of the teams’ second leg on November 24th.
An opening goal from former RSL midfielder Will Johnson and a last moment header from Frederic Piqionne served as bookends for the hosts’ dominant performance, with the win improving Real Salt Lake to 3-0-2 against the Timbers in 2013. Portland are winless in their last nine meetings against the 2009 champions, the loss ending the Timbers’ 10-match unbeaten run. It’s second time this season the Timbers have given up more than four goals, Sunday’s outburst matching Real Salt Lake’s four-star performance in the teams’ last meeting at Rio Tinto (4-2, Aug. 30).
Portland will have two weeks to rebound from their seventh loss of the season, but having been outscored by the Claret and Cobalt 13-8 this year, the Timbers allowed RSL to take a huge step toward their second MLS Cup final.
Portland got on the board first, a joint effort from Will Johnson and Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando. On a restart 26 yards from goal, Rimando was beaten well inside his right post by a shot through the top of his wall. Jumping behind the wall as the shot was taken, Rimando couldn’t get his right hand to prevent his former teammate’s opening goal.
The breakthrough allowed what had been a somewhat even match to descend into one-way play, with Real Salt Lake taking control of a Timbers side that seemed content to rest on their lead. But much like in their first leg against Seattle, Portland was allowing shots but not chances through the first half-hour, the hosts attempting six shots with only one finding Donovan Ricketts’ gloves.
In the 35th minute, however, RSL broke through, with Javier Morales earning then delivering the corner that tied the match. From the right, Morales’s ball to the middle of the penalty area saw Chris Schuler out-muscle Mamadou Danso. Rising above the Portland defender while keeping his opposition on the ground, Schuler finished into the left of goal from nine yards out, making it 1-1.
Six minutes later, Danso was at fault on RSL’s go-ahead goal, misplaying a long ball from Kyle Beckerman. As he tried to turn to get his body between the ball and the oncoming Robbie Findley, the Gambian international’s poor touch saw the ball kicked into his own penalty area, with Findley’s head of steam allowing the RSL attacker to get to the ball before Donovan Ricketts. The former U.S. international’s first touch beat Ricketts to give RSL a 2-1 lead.
After a half in which they’d outshot Portland 13-5 (5-1, shots on goal), RSL doubled their lead early in the second half, a midfield giveaway by Diego Chará leading to a counter attack down the Timbers’ left. Morales’ ball toward the corner for Findley allowed the forward to find his strike partner, Devon Sandoval, with a ball across the top of the six-yard box. The rookie from New Mexico beat Jack Jewsbury to put home the hosts’ third of the night.
In the 82nd minute, Morales capped his one goal, two assist evening, heading Joao Plata’s corner off Frederic Piquonne and into Ricketts’ net, giving RSL a three-goal edge. Moments earlier, a reflex save from Ricketts had prevented a Luis Gil header from converting a Morales cross but conceded a corner. With a quick run near post, RSL’s normal corner kick taker converted one of his own, completing the Argentine’s stellar evening.
Deep into stoppage time, a cross from Jewsbury found Piquionne between central defenders, the former French international heading home to cut RSL’s lead to two – a goal which may damper what was an otherwise dominant performance from RSL. Whereas a three-goal lead carries the weight of being potentially decisive in a two-legged series, a two-goal margin looks surmountable.
But if Portland’s to conquer that obstacle, they first need to come up with a plan to derail RSL. To this point, Caleb Porter’s Timbers have yet to get a a win over their conference final opponents, let alone a two-goal one.
Real Salt Lake: 35′ Chris Schuler, 41′ Robbie Findley, 48′ Devon Sandoval, 82′ Javier Morales
Portland: 14′ Will Johnson, 93′ Frederic Piquionne
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert (33′ Lovel Palmer); Luis Gil, Kyle Beckerman, Sebastián Velasquez; Javier Morales (86′ Ned Grabavoy); Robbie Finley (66′ Joao Plata), Devon Sandoval
Unused subs: Jeff Attinella, Olmes Garcia, Khari Stephenson, Cole Grossman
Portland: Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Mamadou Danso, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Diego Chara, Will Johnson; Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri (53′ Kalif Alhassan), Rodney Wallace (75′ Frederic Piquionne); Ryan Johnson (59′ José Valencia)
Unused subs: Milos Kocic, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Sal Zizzo, Ben Zemanski