Real Salt Lake clinched the first leg of the Western Conference final, defeating Portland Timbers by 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday. Chris Schuler, Robbie Findley, Devon Sandoval and Javier Morales registered for the home side, while Will Johnson and Frederic Piquionne scored for the Timbers.
Real Salt Lake probably had the psychological edge over their rivals, having beaten the TImbers twice this season at home and being unbeaten against them in their last eight outings. The home team, however, had to contend without star forward Alavaro Saborio , who suffered a hip flexor injury against LA Galaxy in the second leg of the Western Conference semi.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter fielded a positive XI, with playmaker Diego Valerie sitting behind the forward trio of Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Johnson and Rodney Wallace. The Portland side also had good form under their belt, going into the game with a 10-game winning streak.
RSL shaded the possession in the opening exchanges, but it were the Timbers who drew first blood. After playmaker Diego Valerie was fouled outside the box, captain Will Johnson stepped up to take the free-kick. The ex-RSL man brilliantly capitalized from the dead-ball in the 14th minute and beat Rimando at his bottom-right.
RSL began to enjoy a good spell of possession as the half progressed and had a couple of decent half chances from Kyle Beckerman and Nat Borchers. They finally made it count in the 35th minute, when defender Chris Schuler rose well above the Timbers defense and slotted home from the corner to draw the home side level.
The Timbers fans would’ve had their hearts in their mouths again in the 38th minute when another the ball bounced ominously in the box following a Moales corner, before finally cleared off the line by Valierie. Soon after, defender Nat Borchers also had an opportunity from a Beckerman cross, but the RSL man shot over the bar from close range.
Nonetheless, the home attendance did not have to wait long for their home side to pull ahead, as Portland defender Mamadou Danso failed to control a fairly simple ball in Timbers defense. Robbie Findley slipped in behind the defender to calmly finish past keeper Donovan Ricketts in the 40th minute.
RSL soon stretch get the two-goal cushion following a second-half kickoff. Morales, who had constantly found space between the Timbers midfield and defense, threaded Robbie Findley down the flank. The forward’s low cross found Sandoval in the box, who finished neatly in the 48th minute.
A relatively quiet phase of play followed. Portland were probing, yet not sufficiently threatening. Substitutes Khalif Alhassan and Frederic Piquionne attempted a couple of long-rangers, but none of them tested Rimando.
It was RSL, however, who stretched the lead even further with a goal from Javier Morales in the 81st minute. The play started with an excellent RSL chance, when a Morales header was glanced goal-wards by Luis Gil, but then brilliantly kept out by keeper Ricketts. The resulting corner from substitute Plata was met by Morales low in the box, whose diving header went past Ricketts.
Portland Timbers, were thrown a lifeline in the dying minutes of second-half injury time, when a deep cross from full-back Paul Jewsbury was brilliantly headed in by Frederic Piquionne. The header sufficient power and direction to beat keeper Rimando and kept the Timbers in the two-legged series.
The six-goal thriller was a repeat score-line of an earlier encounter between the two sides in the regular season at Rio Tinto. Both coaches could take positives from the game: Jason Kreis probably would’ve taken a two-goal lead before the start of the game, while Caleb Porter could take heart from the last-minute goal and would feel that they’re capable of overturning the two-goal deficit on their own turf.
The teams face again in the second leg on November 24 at Jen-Weld Stadium.