RSL extended its mastery of the Portland Timbers with a 4-2 win in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday. Javier Morales led the way with a goal and two assists.
The result puts RSL in good stead for the second leg in Portland on Nov. 24, though the Timbers will carry some hope home as a late consolation goal saved them from a daunting 4-1 aggregate deficit.
“Bookends, right?" said head coach Jason Kreis. "The beginning wasn’t good, the end wasn’t good, but the 75 minutes in-between were really good. I credit [Will Johnson] for that fantastic goal. We don’t get goals scored on us like that too often. Our response to that first goal was terrific. Our guys just got better and better as the game wore on and we got back to the things that we do well. I think that one thing is clear, and I think 100 percent certain, that we still have 90 minutes of work to do if we’re going to advance.”
RSL are unbeaten in their last nine games against Portland in all competitions, and also ended the Timbers' unbeaten streak at 10. Portland remain winless (0-5-1) in Utah.
“Right before the game we feel confident," said Morales. "So they score a goal but we have plenty of time. We play good soccer, we play very intense game. When we get the tie on Schuler’s goal the confidence increase. We’re pretty good playing like that.”
Timbers captain Will Johnson put his former old team in serious trouble just 13 minutes into the game when he lined up a free kick from 25 yards out. Johnson, who was traded from Salt Lake to Portland last winter, struck a knuckling, dipping shot that handcuffed RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and flew into the net for an early Portland advantage.
But Morales began the comeback when he worked the ball into the box and deflected it off Portland midfield Diego Chara for a corner kick in the 35th minute. The RSL playmaker's delivery found the head of defender Chris Schuler, who outleaped his counterpart Futty Danso and headed it in for his second goal in as many games.
A hard-charging Robbie Findley exploited a mistake by Dansou to put Real ahead in the 41st minute, giving the hosts a lead they would not relinquish.
“There’s a lot of depth, you know what I mean?" said Findley. "There’s a lot of guys on that team that are willing to work, to put the work in and it showed tonight. We were able to put some goals in the back of the net.”
RSL took control of the game just three minutes into the second half. After a sweet pass from Morales, Findley took the ball into the Timbers box and passed it off to Devon Sandoval, who held off Jack Jewsbury and steadied himself before sending the ball past a helpless Donovan Ricketts.
Sandoval was starting in place of RSL leading scorer Alvaro Saborio, who suffered a hip flexor strain against LA on Thursday. RSL's offensive attack was expected to suffer without Saborio, who has scored seven goals in six appearances against Portland, but the four-goal output was the most any team had put up against the Timbers since Aug. 30, when this same RSL team beat Portland 4-2 in this same stadium.
“I think if you look at the chances we created and the chances they had, I think it was a pretty solid game for us," said defender Nat Borchers. "Aside from a goal at the beginning and a goal at the end, that in between part was really good. We were disappointed to give up that last goal for sure. But I think if you know if the score is 2-1, 3-1 then everyone is happy. 4-2 it’s still two goals, so we’re happy to bring that back into Portland.”
In the 82nd minute, it was Morales' turn to put the ball in the net as he stooped to head a corner kick from Joao Plata past Ricketts.
But Portland grabbed a pivotal goal back in the 94th minute when substitute Frederic Piquionne's thumping header trimmed the aggregate score to make the second leg a bit more intriguing. The two teams tied (3-3 and 0-0) in two regular-season meetings at JELD-WEN Field
Because of the FIFA international dates, RSL now has two weeks before visiting Portland for the second leg on Sunday, Nov. 24th at 7:00 p.m.
“I prefer not to wait two weeks to play the next match," said Kreis. "I’d like to continue this week’s momentum because we’ve had similar starts-and-stops this year, and it’s been tough to deal with. It is what it is, and so we’ll just do our best. They’ve got a two-week break as well and so we’ll probably both be dealing with a little bit of rustiness in that match.”