PORTLAND, Ore. – They knew it was going to be a tall task.
And if the Portland Timbers were to overcome the two-goal deficit they faced in the Western Conference Championship against Real Salt Lake in the second leg Sunday at JELD-WEN Field, they also knew a lot had to go their way.
That’s exactly what didn’t happen.
Not only were the Timbers facing a RSL team they hadn’t beaten in five previous tries this season – a team that has been to the MLS Cup Playoffs in six consecutive seasons in contrast to the Timbers' playoff debut – but right off the bat things started going wrong. And it would eventually turn into a 1-0 RSL win that sent them to the MLS Cup on a 5-2 aggregate score.
Portland came out flying and dominated large swaths of the early proceedings. But an apparent goal in the 15th minute by Mamadou “Futty” Danso was disallowed for a foul in the box, the first of two goals head referee Mark Geiger wiped off the board in the game.
And then the Timbers’ starting striker, Frederic Piquionne, who head coach Caleb Porter called “tremendous” on the night, had to come off in the 27th minute due to an injury. Right before the halftime whistle, forward Rodney Wallace also had to be subbed off because of an injury.
“It’s tough, it’s tough,” Porter said during his postgame comments. “You can’t dominate a team that good as much as we did. Probably our best 30 minutes in 40 games this year. You could see how hungry they were, you could see how much it meant to them, you could see they were up for it.”
Porter said the first goal by Danso, a header off a Will Johnson corner kick, was the biggest blow to his team’s efforts. He said that goal would have “changed the game.”
“Usually when I think of goals getting called back, I know it right away,” Porter said. “I was celebrating, I was celebrating those goals. The second one was offside, I saw that, but the first one was a phantom, a phantom call. … I don’t know what the call was. Again, I’m not trying to get fined or anything, I’m just calling it like I saw it. I’d like to know what it was.”
And then in between the Timbers two injuries, RSL’s Robbie Findley, who scored in his team’s 4-2 win in the first leg two weeks ago, was in the right place at the right time to clean up the rebound from Luis Gil’s shot in the 29th minute. Porter and company said they were still confident despite the early goal, but the writing was on the wall.
“The mentality was just to continue to play the way we were playing,” defender Michael Harrington said. “It was unfortunate that they scored the goal, but at the end of the day we came into the game needing two or three goals. We wanted to score three goals to win the game. We just needed to be better around the goal.”
And despite 18 shots, only two were on target and it ultimately was the reason RSL celebrated on the JELD-WEN turf after the final whistle.
“They just punished us when we made mistakes,” Johnson said. “I think again we kind of beat ourselves. Going forward we need to find a way to make plays in the box.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.