PORTLAND, Ore. – It may have only been one goal, but when Real Salt Lake forward Robbie Findley put the ball into the net in the 29th minute during RSL's 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday night, his team had Portland beat.
Down three goals on aggregate, the Timbers never recovered and RSL were on their way to MLS Cup.
“Probably wasn't the prettiest one we've ever scored,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis told reporters, “but we'll take it. And I thought we handled the match pretty well from there.”
Findley scored his second goal in as many games against the Timbers, this one somewhat reminiscent of the one he scored in the 2009 MLS Cup final – a goal that carried Salt Lake to overtime and a shootout win over the LA Galaxy.
Despite the tally, RSL refused to relax, lest they give the Timbers an opening.
“It wasn't even over after that,” Findley told MLSsoccer.com. “They still came at us and we had to weather the storm.”
The storm blew hardest before his goal, however.
“It certainly had me nervous for long stretches of that first half,” Kreis said. “But the goal that was scored was so critical.”
Though it's always important to score the first goal, “You enter a match like this where you're already up two, and I think that first goal becomes 10 times as important,” Kreis said. “If Portland scores the first goal, they've got all the momentum. They're on their home field. They've got their fans behind them. I think that we would have been in a really, really tough place.”
Up 4-2 after the first leg, Findley's goal meant Portland would have to score three goals just to take the match to overtime.
“We knew that if we scored a goal, it's going to be tough for them,” RSL midfielder Javier Morales told MLSsoccer.com. “I saw in their faces, a little bit – they were thinking about it. They started to play a little bit nervous.”
The Claret-and-Cobalt, on the other hand, was just worried about the next 20 minutes or so after Findley scored.
“The big thing was to get into half three up [on aggregate],” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman told MLSsoccer.com. “We all said, 'Let's do it. Let's shut this thing down.' And when we were able to get into the half, it took a lot of wind out of their sails.”
In the second half, Portland had a few chances – but fewer than in the first half. As the Timbers grew more impatient, RSL grew more calm.
“We were more settled,” RSL defender Lovel Palmer told MLSsoccer.com. “They had to open up even more than they were supposed to to get two goals. We were more comfortable. We started playing our passing game and we got more relaxed.”