SANDY, Utah — Álvaro Saborío struck in the first half and Real Salt Lake appeared ready to lock up the third seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket. But that was before defender Futty Danso popped up in the RSL box and knocked in a late equalizer to give the Portland Timbers a 1-1 draw at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night.
Still, RSL clinched third place in the Western Conference standings thanks to FC Dallas' loss at San Jose later Saturday, ensuring them a bye directly into the Conference semifinals. That could prove doubly important this year if either LA or Seattle reach the MLS Cup final. In that case, the third-place club would earn a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Though Portland had nothing to play for but pride, the match was a feisty affair, as referee Silviu Petrescu handed out five yellow cards and was forced to separate the players multiple times, particularly as RSL attempted to play out the match in the second half.
By then, they had a one-goal lead, thanks to Saborio, who struck for his 11th goal of the season just before halftime. A long ball out of the midfield from Fabián Espíndola picked out Saborío, who had slipped in behind the defense. A deft flick over the onrushing Timbers keeper Troy Perkins provided the killer touch, and RSL had a lead heading into the break.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, it appeared that the Timbers would get the equalizer. First, Eric Alexander rifled a shot in the 47th minute from 30 yards out that produced a diving fingertip save from RSL keeper Nick Rimando.
In the 55th minute, Chris Wingert was whistled for a hand ball in the box. A sharp cross from Lovel Palmer clipped Wingert’s outstretched arm as he closed Hall down, and Petrescu pointed to the spot.
However, the normally steady Jack Jewsbury fired his shot off the crossbar and over.
After the penalty, both teams scratched and clawed, and the emotions inevitably spilled over. Several hard tackles came in. Saborío pushed defender Eric Brunner, which sparked a shoving match among the teams.
The commotion seemed to affect RSL’s concentration, and a lapse in the back led to Futty’s 90th-minute equalizer. Timbers substitute Brian Umony’s cross shimmied into the box, snuck past striker Bright Dike, and fell kindly to Futty, who had the whole net in front of him. It was an easy tap in and the score was level.
RSL nearly re-snatched their lead and three points in the dying seconds, but Saborío’s shot bounced off the post.
The draw puts RSL on 52 points and will put them at home next weekend against Seattle in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals.
Meanwhile Portland finish their inaugural MLS season at 42 points, just missing out on a playoff spot.
RSL -- Alvaro Saborio 11 (Fabian Espindola 3) 46+
POR -- Futty Danso 3 (Brian Umony 1) 91+
Portland Timbers -- Troy Perkins, Lovel Palmer (David Horst 72), Eric Brunner, Futty Danso, Rodney Wallace, Eric Alexander, Jack Jewsbury, James Marcelin, Diego Chara, Kenny Cooper (Bright Dike 66), Kalif Alhassan (Brian Umony 80).
Real Salt Lake -- Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Andy Williams (Arturo Alvarez 84), Yordany Alvarez, Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio, Fabian Espindola.
RSL -- Chris Wingert (caution; Reckless Tackle) 27
RSL -- Yordany Alvarez (caution; Reckless Foul) 34
POR -- Rodney Wallace (caution; Tactical Foul) 38
POR -- Bright Dike (caution; Reckless Foul) 82
RSL -- Alvaro Saborio (caution; Unsporting Behavior) 86
Referee: Silviu Petrescu
Referee's Assistants: Chris Strickland; Hector Vergara
4th Official: Allen Chapman
Time of Game: 1:50
Weather: Clear and 64 degrees