The prelude to Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal in Sandy focused on the styles Real Salt Lake and Portland would bring to the game. RSL has long been thought to play some of the most aesthetically pleasing soccer in MLS, while the philosophy Caleb Porter’s brought to the Timbers has made “Porterball” shorthand for attractive soccer. When, earlier this week, Porter espoused his admiration for RSL, discussed how he’d watch them before he moved to MLS, the mutual appreciation was palpable.
While the love fest played out in its predictably pleased fashion at Rio Tinto on Wednesday, the occasion reminded us that stakes really matter. Yeah, it was nice that two teams who like to keep it on the ground and move it quickly where going at each other, but this was a U.S. Open Cup semifinal. In an elimination game, only the final score mattered. There were no points for artistic merit.
If there were, Álvaro Saborio would have racked them up with his seventh minute, looping goal from the left of the box, his shot off a Kyle Beckerman cross arcing over Donovan Ricketts, against the far post, and in for the opening score.
RSL held that lead until the 78th minute when substitute Joao Plata, taking a lay-off from Saborio, doubled his team’s lead from 25 yards, seemingly putting the home side into the U.S. Open Cup final.
That assumption was almost proven wrong in stoppage time. Just after the clock struck 90:00, Diego Valeri headed home the rebound of his own shot, giving the Timbers new life.
That life, however, was extinguished four minutes later when full time was blown on the Timbers’ Cup run. With the 2-1 win, Real Salt Lake is into the final, set to host D.C. United on October 1 with a chance to win their first U.S. Open Cup.
The warm congratulations, celebrations between the teams after the game harkened back to the match’s prelude – the focus on style. It was clear the two teams, somewhat isolated in their philosophies in the pragmatic world of MLS, had an appreciation for each others’ games. Set to face off two more times this month, the teams will have more opportunities to reflect on each other’s quality. Perhaps a type of rival can be sparked from their mutual appreciation: The Admiration Cup.
Ultimately, it was the result that mattered, with RSL fans and Portland supporters little concerned with their aesthetics after final whistle. The Timbers were out of the competition, missing out on the opportunity to host the U.S. Open Cup final. RSL, on the other hand, gets a showcase in Sandy and the chance to claim the club’s second major trophy.