PORTLAND, Ore. – Something had to give at JELD-WEN Field on Sunday night. And, it turned out, it was Portland's 18-game competitive home unbeaten streak.
Real Salt Lake beat the Timbers 1-0 in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship, extended their unbeaten streak against Portland to 10 and secured a berth in MLS Cup 2013 on Dec. 7.
Despite that, RSL could not manage a definitive explanation for how it has managed to dominate one of the best teams in MLS this season, going 4-0-2 and outscoring the Timbers 14-8.
“I don't know,” RSL midfielder Javier Morales told MLSsoccer.com. “They are one of the best teams in the league and we beat them four times? I think they play the same way as us, so maybe we are a little bit more experienced than them.”
Salt Lake forward Robbie Findley, who scored the winning goal Sunday, echoed those thoughts.
“They are a great team. They have plenty of talent,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “I don't know. We've got experience.”
As it happened, Portland edged out Salt Lake to win the regular-season Western Conference title by a single point. But the Timbers haven't beaten RSL since the first time the two teams met, a 1-0 win in April 2011.
“I can't really explain it. I honestly can't,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis told reporters. “I think that we do a pretty good job of exploiting the spaces that are there, and we have the players in the right spots to take advantage of that situation.
“I think that the teams are very evenly matched. I think that every game feels to me to be very even.”
The Claret-and-Cobalt did produce a pair of 4-2 wins over the Timbers this season – one in the regular season, one in the first leg of the Conference Championship. But RSL's win in the semifinals of the US Open Cup was 2-1; Sunday's win was 1-0; and there were two ties in the 2013 series between the clubs.
“We've scored some goals at some critical moments,” Kreis said. “I think that they haven't scored some goals at critical moments that they probably should have.”