One game, 100 words (or less): Portland had not beaten Real Salt Lake since the teams’ first MLS meeting in 2011, with the eventual Western Conference champions eliminating the Timbers from both U.S. Open Cup and the MLS playoffs last season. On Saturday, however, an occasionally dominant performance from Fanendo Adi and a man advantage through most of the second half helped Caleb Porter claim his first win over his early nemesis. With a 3-1 victory at Rio Tinto, Portland won its third game in four while extending RSL’s four-match winless run.
Three moments that mattered
1. 28′ – Ricketts comes up big on Garcia – With Luke Mulholland having already put RSL up one, Portland couldn’t afford to give up another goal, particularly against a team that’s proven so difficult for the Timbers to beat. That’s what made Ricketts’ 28th minute save so vital. On a play built down the left, sent to the right of the box, then moved back to the middle, Olmes Garcia was allowed to fire away from near the top of the box. Caught by his left post, Ricketts seemed to be giving up too much goal, but on a shot hit within diving distance, the 2013 Goalkeeper of the Year’s save kept his team within one.
2. 36′ – Fanendo Adi blows up Chris Schuler, starts taking over – When, in American football, an offensive lineman knocks a defensive player onto his back, you can say he blew him up. Suffice to say, it’s something that rarely happens on a soccer field. On a 36th minute corner, however, Fanendo Adi came pretty close to doing that to Chris Schuler. Knocking the 6’4″ RSL defender to the ground, the young Nigerian headed home the equalizing goal beginning a nine-minute stretch of dominance that culminated with his second goal. For Schuler, the play was part of a difficult night that included a hand ball ahead of the game’s final, penalty kick goal.
3. 53′ – Tony Beltran gets sent off – Thankfully, Beltran didn’t do more damage to Darlington Nagbe. Going airborne from behind and wrapping his legs around the Portland attacker, Beltran committed one of the uglier fouls of the say, one that could have been dangerous had his weight fell on Nagbe’s knee or an ankle. Earning his second yellow in two minutes, Beltran left his team with 10 men, part of the reason RSL dropped its second game of the season.
Three lessons going forward
1. Fanendo Adi looks unplayable – Chris Schuler is one of the best defenders in the league, making it more remarkable Adi physically owned him on that 36th minute corner. In terms of speed and technique, the FC Copenhagen loanee kept Nat Borchers back pedaling four minutes later before sending Jeff Attinella diving toward his far post. Through 225 minutes, Adi already has four goals, giving Porter the number nine he lacked during his first 16 months in Portland.
2. This could be Jeff Cassar’s first big challenge – Real Salt Lake has gone four games without a win, and they don’t have Kyle Beckerman to help pull them out of this slump. There are other leaders within the team, but faced with the first slump of his coaching career, this may also be time for Cassar to come up with a solution.
Maybe that solution could be using the World Cup break to refresh the squad, or perhaps some kind of shakeup in midfield is in order. From outside the team, it’s always difficult to tell, but after losing to the Timbers for the first time in three years, it may be time to reflect on what’s gone on wrong the last two weeks.
3. These are games Portland should win – That sounds crazy considering the teams’ history against each other as well as their 2014 results, but RSL is missing three key players because of injury and the World Cup. The Timbers left Pa Modou Kah in Portland but were otherwise at full strength. Though the Timbers came into the game with three wins, the team still has the talent to compete at the top of the West. Portland needed to take advantage of this opportunity.
Where that leaves them:
- Real Salt Lake: 6-7-2, second in the West, eight points behind Seattle
- Portland: 4-4-7, sixth in the West, two points out of a playoff spot