SANDY, Utah — Three years, one month and one week since Portland last beat Real Salt Lake, the Timbers finally stopped an 11-game winless streak against their Western Conference foe with a 3-1 win at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night.
After going down in the first half, the Timbers ditched the usual possession oriented style and turned to the counterattack -- to great effect. A pair of goals by Portland's Fanendo Adi, a pair of yellow cards on RSL defender Tony Beltran, and a well-taken Will Johnson penalty allowed them to to walk away with their first-ever win in Utah.
RSL took the lead in the 23rd minute. Defender Chris Schuler's header off a corner kick was deflected; the ball fell right at the feet of midfielder Luke Mulholland; he struck it hard and put it in the right side of the net as Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts could only watch.
But RSL, who have struggled with set plays all season, conceded the tying goal on a Portland corner kick. Midfielder Diego Valeri crossed a corner kick in perfectly and forward Adi headed it in to the left side of the night, beyond the reach of RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
Adi wasn't done. In the 45th minute, RSL took a corner kick of its own and, when it was headed away, the Timbers raced off on the counter-attack. Portland took the ball down the field with a four-on-two break and Attinella made a spectacular save on Darlington Nagbe, but Adi was there to slam home the rebound.
The handwriting was on the wall for Real Salt Lake less than 10 minutes into the second half when referee Ismail Elfath pulled two yellow cards and then a red out of his pocket in the space of less than two minutes. RSL defender Beltran was first carded for grabbing Nagbe's jersey and then for taking Nagbe down with a poorly timed tackle.
His ejection left RSL down a goal and a man.
The game was iced in the 73rd minute after Elfah whistled for a penalty for Portland. A cheeky flicked cross from Nagbe was blocked by Schuler's arm as he slid in to make a play inside the box. Adding insult to injury, Portland captain Johnson — a longtime RSL favorite until he was traded to the Timbers before the 2013 season — stepped up and calmly put the ball in the net.
The Claret-and-Cobalt came into the game riding an 11-game unbeaten streak against the Timbers — eight regular-season matches; two playoff games; and a US Open Cup semifinal -- that stretched back to 2011.
Portland, which was winless in its first eight games this season, have now won four of their last five and are knocking on the door of the playoff zone.
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RSL, which went unbeaten through its first 12 games, are now winless in their last four (0-2-2). Salt Lake are 1-2-2 since team captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando were called up to the US national team for World Cup duty and forward Alvaro Saborio left to train with the Costa Rican national team. (Saborio broke a bone in his foot in Costa Rica and will be out 3-4 months.)
RSL (6-2-7, 25 points) next head to Atlanta on Saturday to take on the Silverbacks in US Open Cup play. The team's next MLS regular-season game comes after the World Cup break when RSL travels to Carson, Calif. to meet Chivas USA on Jun 28.
Portland (4-4-7, 19 points) host Dallas on Wednesday in their final regular-season game before the World Cup break, then they host the Orlando City U-23s on June 17, in USOC play.