Leave it to Portland’s nemeses to nullify the team’s most encouraging performance of the season. Growing desperately winless, the Timbers were left empty-handed after their best game of the season, with a late Ned Grabavoy goal at Rio Tinto extending Real Salt Lake’s unbeaten streak over Portland to 11 games. The 1-0 loss also left the Timbers, first in the West at the end of the 2013 regular season, without a victory seven weeks into the 2014 season.
Were it not for some late Nick Rimando heroics, however, the Timbers would have gotten something from Saturday’s game. In the 85th minute, akick save on an Alvas Powell shot from the right of the area left the young Jamaican stonewalled after a one-on-one. Three minutes later, a leaping block toward his upper-right hand corner saw Rimando deny Gastón Fernández. Though Portland created the better chances and held Real Salt Lake’s biggest weapons in check, RSL’s quality in goal allowed the Western Conference champions to extend its dominance over their guests.
At the other end, Portland added another defensive error to the team’s growing list of breakdowns, though whereas it’s been the central defense that’s hurt the team through most of the season, it was the midfield and one veteran fullback that succumbed on Saturday. In the 78th minute, a ball worked from right-to-left at the edge of RSL’s final third left Grabavoy with the ball. The veteran midfielder turning toward goal, surprisingly pulled away from Darlington Nagbe, who has been hampered by a leg injury. Jack Jewsbury, back in the team at right back, was drawn wide by Joao Plata, leaving the left channel exposed. Grabavoy quickly released a shot from the edge of the area that bounced into Donovan Ricketts’ lower left-hand corner.
That the goal came after a strong hour of play from the visitors can be seen as a silver lining. For a Portland team that needs to assess whether the squad has the right ingredients, there were a number of positives in the performance. If the Timbers had played like that in its six previous games, they wouldn’t have entered Rio Tinto winless.
But the team is winless, and as we saw after the Timbers failed to gain momentum from an offensive outburts against Seattle, one good night may not foreshadow of future performance. Portland got up for a team that’s become its second rivals, but with errors at the back and a lack of quality up front, the same questions remain ahead of next week’s trip to Houston.
As for Real Salt Lake, this is who they are. Perhaps it wasn’t the team’s most convincing performance, but it was a resourceful one. Though the team didn’t have the usual success they do against Portland, Jeff Cassar was able to look to his bench, insert Sebastian Velasquez and Joao Plata, and see his first two substitutes contribute to the winning score. Velasquez played the ball across to Grabavoy, while Plata drew Jewsbury out of the channel.
Against a quality opponent, RSL gave the type of performance teams need to content at the top of their conferences. At 3-0-4, that team remains the last of the unbeatens.