SANDY, Utah – For the Portland Timbers to finally get a win in Utah, there's a couple of things the Timbers might want to consider heading into Saturday's matchup at Rio Tinto Stadium (9:30 pm ET; MLS Live).
Score off set pieces. And score late.
Six games into the season, Real Salt Lake have conceded a total of six goals. Three of those have come directly off set pieces – two in a 3-3 tie at San Jose and the other in a 1-1 tie at Philadelphia. And a fourth goal – the third in the San Jose game – came at the end of a sequence that started with a corner kick.
“It is something you can work on,” RSL defender Chris Wingert told reporters on Thursday. “It's just a matter of really trying to stay focused and concentrating throughout the match so you don't have any lapses on those types of plays.”
RSL head coach Jeff Cassar agreed that, “These things are correctable,” he said. “Myself and the coaching staff need to concentrate on those little things.”
The Claret-and-Cobalt remain the only team in MLS without a loss, but they have dropped a total of eight points in four ties. If they didn’t give up those two late goals, they'd be all alone in first place in the Western Conference instead of three points behind FC Dallas in a three-way tie for second with Colorado and Seattle.
“To get a result all six games is good,” Wingert said. “Especially because we felt like these six games were really tough. We're proud of that.”
RSL have played four of their first six games on the road – at LA, San Jose, Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia. To come out of those four games with a win and four ties is better than most would have projected for the team.
“On the other hand, we know we can do better,” Wingert added.
- Get the latest headlines at RealSaltLake.com
One could also argue that the Claret-and-Cobalt have struggled to stay focused at the end of games. Against both the Earthquakes and the Union – two ties that the players and Cassar conceded felt like losses – Salt Lake gave up very late goals.
At San Jose, it was a 95th-minute goal at the end of a sequence that started with a corner. At Philadelphia, the equalizer came in the 90th minute directly off a corner kick.
Still, those late goals meant ties, not losses. And in 2013, Portland won 14 games while RSL won 16, but the Timbers had 15 ties and edged out Salt Lake to win the regular-season conference crown.
“Especially with road matches, teams that don't lose too often tend to do well,” Wingert said. “Especially now with 19 teams, does it guarantee you're going to win the conference or be in the Supporters' Shield race? No, certainly not. But I think if you're not losing, it's a positive thing. It means that you're tough to play against, it doesn't matter if you're at home or on the road."
In their three seasons in MLS, Portland are 0-5-1 in Utah and 1-7-3 overall against RSL. Despite winning the regular-season conference crown, the Timbers couldn't beat Salt Lake, going 0-4-2 in three regular-season games, a US Open Cup semifinal and two legs of a playoff series.
“We feel like we're capable of winning anywhere,” Wingert said. “But, certainly, at home we'd like to be earning all three points.”