PORTLAND, Ore. — For the second time in team history, Real Salt Lake is into the MLS Cup final, their fourth win of the year over Western Conference top-seed Portland putting the Claret and Coblet into their first championship game since 2009. With a 29th minute goal from Robbie Findley, RSL earned a 1-0 win at JELD-WEN Field, finishing their 5-2 aggregate victory over the Timbers.
Real Salt Lake, the West’s second seed, will now face the Eastern Conference’s runners up on Dec. 7, Sporting Kansas City set to host MLS Cup after their 2-1 win Saturday over the Houston Dynamo.
RSL came into the final leg of the team’s two-legged playoff with a two-goal edge won Nov. 17 in Utah. Then, goals from Chris Schuler, Findley, Devon Sandoval and Javier Morales had RSL up 4-1 before a stoppage time header from Portland’s Frederic Piquionne built on Will Johnson opening goal, cutting the Timber’s deficit to two after of the ahead of Sunday’s match at JELD-WEN.
An opening half that saw Real Salt Lake generate the first good chance (a Devon Sandoval header hit down and over the bar) left Portland finding net first, though Mamadou ‘Futty’ Danso’s goal was waved off when Rodney Wallace was called for a foul while playing Will Johnson’s corner kick. For nearly 30 minutes, the teams alternated control of the match, Portland holding more of the ball while both teams put three shots toward goal.
The back-and-forth half broke Real Salt Lake’s way in the 29th minute thanks for a failed clearance by Pa Modou Kah after a Nick Rimando goal kick. A ball that bounced to the edge of the Timbers penalty area was headed straight to Javier Morales, whose touch pass to Luis Gil sent the 20-year-old toward goal. The midfielder’s 20-yard strike was parried by Donovan Ricketts but left in front of the right post. There, Findley beat Kah and Michael Harrington to the rebound for the game’s opening score.
Four minutes later, Portland appeared to have equalized only for another Futty Danso goal to be waved off. Cleaning up a Diego Valeri shot from the middle of the box, Danso slid the rebound under a sprawling Nick Rimando only to see the assistant referee’s flag was raised, the Timbers’ defender offside ahead of this teammate’s shot.
Down one at halftime, the Timbers opened the second half on the front foot, earning a number of haf-chances and fouls deep in Real Salt Lake’s end. But after 20 minutes, RSL had weathered the storm, and Portland’s chances became more isolated as their guests started to see more of the ball.
Come the 75th minute, Real Salt Lake was holding out, collapsing deep into their own half, leaving Portland to try their luck beating Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler on crosses. Rarely tested as the clock ran out, Rimando kept second consecutive clean sheet in Portland, his team’s first win of the year at JELD-WEN putting the 2009 champions back in the MLS Cup final.
It was RSL’s fourth win overall over the Timbers in 2013, who went winless in six games against Salt Lake this year. Now Jason Kreis’s team moves on to face Sporting Kansas City, a team they’ve had far less success against. In the team’s only meeting Ike Opara scored in the 97th minute at Rio Tinto Stadium, giving Sporting a 2-1 win.