SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake extended their confounding 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, playmaker Javier Morales leading 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.
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.
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 Danso to put Real ahead in the 41st minute, giving the hosts a lead they would not relinquish.
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.
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 from Nov. 15-19, both Conference Championship series take a two-week break. RSL visit Portland for the second leg on Sunday, Nov. 24 (9 pm ET, ESPN).
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Javier Morales||Two assists and a goal only begins to express the Argentine's influence on his team's rhythm and effectiveness.|
|2||Devon Sandoval||Powerful, clever and composed -- all this from a rookie who fell to No. 29 in the SuperDraft board back in January.|
|3||Kyle Beckerman||As usual, the story behind the story. Blunted the vaunted Timbers midfield and led by example with heart and smarts.|