PORTLAND, Ore. – There was no playing up the positives on this night for Caleb Porter.
The normally even-keeled coach of the Portland Timbers had no qualms about expressing his frustrations after his side let three points and a spot atop the Western Conference standings slip away Wednesday night at JELD-WEN Field after their game against Real Salt Lake ended in a 3-3 draw.
It took a stoppage time goal by substitute Cole Grossman, just minutes after Portland appeared to have a dramatic victory in hand thanks to an 86th-minute strike from Kalif Alhassan that led to Porter’s honest assessment.
“I think we’re all pretty gutted not to get that three points,” Porter said. “Obviously it’s in our hands, 3-2, and we did a heck of job in that second half battling back to get those two goals.”
It was a game – the first of three between the two sides battling for conference supremacy – full of intense swings. The first of which, Porter said, allowed RSL to get into a game that the Timbers should have put away much earlier.
After Rodney Wallace scored in the 24th minute, Porter said there was a letdown that allowed Real to net the equalizer and then the go-ahead goal – thanks to a Nat Borchers strike and a Javier Morales penalty kick – before the first half was over.
“Ultimately, we can’t score a goal that early in the game and think it’s done,” Porter said. “And in some ways we played to protect, and when we do that it lets other teams get a flow and a rhythm and they did.”
The momentum swung back Portland’s way in the second half when Diego Valeri converted on a penalty kick to even it at 2-2. Alhassan’s heroics, on a right-footed blast past a diving RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, led to a near frenzy at sold-out JELD-WEN.
Timbers forward Ryan Johnson said he, like nearly everyone at the stadium, thought a momentous win was at hand.
“The whole stadium thought that,” Johnson said. “That’s football sometimes, you don’t always get what you want.”
RSL’s final equalizer came thanks to several failed Portland clearance attempts, leading to a ping-pong effect that fell to Grossman for a clear shot. Porter said there were some mistakes made on the play, but more so he was disappointed his team didn’t continue to play aggressive to put the game away.
“More than the mistakes, it’s more about, again, the mentality,” Porter said. “If we play the way we’re capable of playing and play aggressive, then that game probably goes 1-0, 2-0. We had them on the ropes at 1-0… but we let them back in the game.”
And while Porter was quick to let on his disappointment, he also said it’s an emotion they can’t afford to indulge. Portland are right back at it in a highly anticipated matchup Sunday at Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders and newly signed striker Clint Dempsey.
“Mostly we need to put it behind us quickly and get to work on Seattle. We can’t have a hangover in this tight window. Psychologically we need to move on quickly.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.