Real Salt Lake secured a crucial 4-2 win over Conference rivals Portland Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium on Friday night. Luis Gil, Joao Plata, Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio scored for the home side, while Darlington Nagbe and Sal Zizzo registered for the visitors.
RSL were coming into the game after a resounding 4-0 thumping of Columbus Crew at home last Saturday. The hosts would also have the psychological edge, having secured a 3-3 draw against Timbers in injury time with 10 men the last time the teams played each other at Jan-Weld Stadium.
The hosts were welcoming back forward Alvaro Saborio into the starting lineup. Timbers midfielder, Will Johnson, however, couldn’t take on his former teammates, following an injury against the same opponents in the US Open Cup semi.
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RSL picked up where they left off against Crew when Luis Gil scored early in the 9th minute. Joao Plata flicked on from a Kyle Beckerman pass to set up an umarked Gil. The midfielder finished neatly past keeper Donovan Ricketts.
The hosts soon scored a decisive second in the 15th minute when the lively Plata picked up the ball from Gravaboy and dribbled past defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste. The shot on goal was still from an acute angle, but Plata’s well placed left-footer beat Ricketts at the far post.
The Portland sides pulled one back in the 32nd minute, after defender Michael Harrington pick-pocketed an RSL ball in his own half and drove into the heart of Real defense. Forward Darlington Nagbe picked up the ball and the forward’s well-struck shot from outside the box beat Rimando.
Immediately following the goal, Timbers’ coach Caleb Porter brought on Alvas Powell for injured playmaker Diego Valeri to switch from 3-4-3 to a more pragmatic 4-3-3.
The temperature picked up in the 43rd minute when a physical confrontation followed after Ned Gravaboy was fouled outside the Timbers’ box. The melee resulted in a yellow each for Joao Plata and Timbers’ defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
The bitter nature of the game hadn’t died down as Timbers’ midfielder Ben Zemanski was sent off just at the stroke of half-time. Zemanski plunged in with a two-footed challenge on Gravaboy and received his marching orders.
Zemanski’s challenge wasn’t clean by any means, but whether if it was deserving of a straight red is up for debate.
With a man advantage, RSL restored the two-goal cushion with a brilliant overhead kick in the 56th minute following a Beckerman corner. The midfielder surprisingly found himself with plenty of space in the box in a set-piece, but still had to show skill and composure to find the net.
The goal-frenzy continued when forward Alvaro Savorio continued on his prolific record against Portland Timbers with a header from a Morales free-kick. The 10 men Portland side had been ragged in defense in the second half and would be disappointed to concede a second goal from a set-piece situation.
Portland Timbers did see a glimmer of hope when Sal Zizzo pounced on a rebound in the 77th minute after Jose Valencia saw his long-range effort saved from Real keeper Nick Rimando. However, it was too little too late for the Caleb Porters’men.
RSL stretch their lead to a sizeable eight points over nearest Conference rivals LA Galaxy, although the Los Angeles outfit has three games in hand. Despite the loss, Portland Timbers are still in a playoff position, but would want to turn the corner soon at this crunch stage following back-to-back losses against RSL and Sounders.