Choosing between Real Salt Lake center backs Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler as the best of a very good bunch Sunday night at Jeld-Wen Field is like choosing between ice cream or cake for dessert.
That is to say, both were very, very good. Not just in Sunday’s 1-0 achievement, either, but over the entire 180 minutes of this stylish series. In fact, good performances were all over the field for Jason Kries’ team Sunday as RSL finished the Western Conference job with a steely, calm authority.
But Borchers, RSL’s veteran, 32-year-old center back, was maybe just a smidge more commanding than Schuler along an RSL back line that did very, very little wrong. (In fact, in terms of notable mistakes for the visitor’s rear guard, Lovel Palmer’s early yellow card may have been about it.)
Portland, down two goals in the series, came into the Jeld-Wen night desperate for goals. And yet, the home team was mostly reduced to a series of half-chances and a few shots from beyond the 18. RSL’s busy midfield was quite responsible, but so were RSL’s center backs. Borchers, Schuler and Kyle Beckerman, RSL’s ever-present screening midfielder, were always in the right places at the right time anytime Portland players seemed like they were thinking about shooting.
Until Max Urruti’s drive right at goalkeeper Nick Rimando in the 84th minute, Portland had managed just one single shot on target. One – in a match where they were determined to attack, attack, attack.
Rimando’s night otherwise was a lot of organizing and grabbing a cross here and there – the few crosses that Borchers didn’t deal with, that is.
Statistically, Borchers was credited with 18 clearances and three blocked shots – both game-highs for either side.
When not dealing with balls into the box, Borchers’ positioning was so wise that neither Urruti nor starting Timbers’ striker Freddie Piquionne was a factor in hold-up play nor in getting a sniff near goal.