PORTLAND, Ore. – Real Salt Lake still have the Portland Timbers' number, and they’re going to the MLS Cup because of it.
RSL beat Portland for the fourth time this year, this time with a 1-0 decision in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship at a raucous JELD-WEN Field on a chilly Sunday night. RSL advance to the league’s championship game for the second time in franchise history and the first time since 2009 by an aggregate total of 5-2. RSL will face Sporting Kansas City, who defeated Houston in the Eastern Conference Championship, at Sporting Park on Dec. 7.
Despite relentless pressure early and often by the Timbers – who were attempting to overcome a two-goal deficit after a 4-2 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium in the first leg two weeks ago – RSL virtually sealed their trip to Kansas City when Robbie Findley scored in the 29th minute. The early goal not only deflated an eager Timbers side but put an exclamation point on RSL’s dominance over the Timbers in 2013; in six games Portland were outscored 13-8 and only able to earn two draws.
Regardless, the curtain falls on a highly successful season for the Timbers, who clinched the top seed in the West and the club’s first-ever trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs after a complete turnaround in fortunes from last season under first-year coach Caleb Porter. The end came in somewhat heartbreaking fashion for the Timbers, who controlled most of the play but saw two goals waved off, were forced to make two injury substitutions, all in the first half, and saw 17 shots go begging.
The Timbers' already daunting challenge was made nearly impossible after Findley was there to clean up a Luis Gil shot that Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was unable to field cleanly after a RSL counter attack.
Portland certainly had their chances to make things interesting with an early goal.
In the second minute, defender Pa Modou Kah got on the end of a corner kick for a clean header but it was offline to the right.
Forward Frederic Piquionne made a blistering run down the left flank in the ninth minute and attempted to hit a charging Diego Valeri in the middle of the penalty area. But Valeri was unable to get a clean touch on the bouncing pass.
Portland’s first apparent goal was waved off for a foul in the 15th minute after a corner-kick header by Mamadou “Futty” Danso. And in the 33rd minute, another Danso goal on a free kick was disallowed, this time when the big central defender was caught offside.
In the second half, with RSL happily pulling their lines back, not many dangerous chances came for either team.
Portland got an opportunity at getting on the board at least when Darlington Nagbe made a run down the middle of the park and slid a pass to an open Will Johnson just inside the area. But Johnson’s 68th-minute blast was pushed well wide. Urruti fired off a long shot in the 84th minute that was shepherded easily by RSL ‘keeper Nick Rimando.
RSL nearly added to their impressive total in the 72nd minute when Findley fired off a shot from the left side of the box after a through pass from Javier Morales, but Ricketts was there for the save.
In the end, RSL’s defense was more than up to the task of turning away Portland’s attack. Portland forced RSL ‘keeper Rimando into action just twice.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Robbie Findley||Came up with the timely goal for his team once again, and broke Portland's backs in the process|
|2||Chris Schuler||Stood out on RSL's backline to keep Portland off balance, unable to score at home in an elimination game|
|3||Javier Morales||Helped RSL push forward enough to keep Timbers honest, and showed his experience in the process|