Things were setting up perfectly for the Portland Timbers.
They were finally getting the better of Real Salt Lake, a side that they had beaten just once in 10 tries from their three-plus years in MLS, at Rio Tinto Stadium, grounds where Portland have never won. The Timbers were winning the possession battle and creating a number of chances in the Saturday night meeting.
And in the 58th minute, Timbers forward Maximiliano Urruti found enough space to charge down the left wing and fire off a laser seemingly destined for the back of the net to give the Timbers a 1-0 lead. But RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando managed, somehow, to parry it aside with a diving save.
Two minutes later, Urruti had another goal dead-to-rights, if not for more Rimando magic on a point-blank kick save.
Two moments that could have turned the tide on the Timbers’ struggles against RSL, but it wasn’t to be. And true to the narrative – highlighted when RSL beat Portland four times in six meetings last year, including both legs of the Western Conference Championship – Salt Lake finally found the winning goal, on a Ned Grabavoy strike in the 78th minute, for the 1-0 decision.
“The game went exactly how we wanted it to go,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “But like I said, in the 65th to the 75th minute, before they got the goal, we had them on the ropes. And we’ve got to finish our chances when we get in that position. For me, that’s ultimately the difference in the game. We had a couple chances there that, at this level, have to be goals.”
After withstanding an initial RSL onslaught to start the game, Portland did, indeed, control possession for large stretches of the ongoing proceedings. And they had four shots on goal to RSL’s three, although Real outshot the Timbers overall 12-9.
Porter said there were a lot of positives to take away – especially considering the Timbers’ struggles in Salt Lake last year.
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“They’re used to opening teams up, they’re used to being on the ball,” Porter said. “They didn’t get many chances, and they weren’t on the ball very much. I thought we frustrated them, and they had a hard time figuring it out. And that’s a real positive because we play this team another two times.”
Timbers captain Will Johnson, who played for five years with Real Salt Lake before being traded to Portland ahead of the 2013 season, appreciates that there are positives to take from every game, but is tired of having to look for them each week.
“I’m a little bit sick and tired of hearing that; it’s all about results,” Johnson said of drawing positives from the loss. “We have to step up and make plays, and there are plays out there that are there to be made. This is professional soccer, and when we get in those big moments we look like amateurs. So we have to face the reality that we have to be better.”
Now winless in their first seven games to start the season, the league’s third highest scoring team from last season have now been shut out in two games and scored just eight goals.
“When you get in those chances you have to get up there and bury it,” Johnson said. “You can’t just side-foot a shot and hope that it goes in because it doesn’t work like that at this level. You’ve got to go up there with confidence and put your foot through the ball and score the goal. It doesn’t matter who is in goal. If you hit the ball like you’re supposed to, it doesn’t matter.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.