Portland fails to score in Leg 2 vs. Real Salt Lake
The Portland Timbers took the 2013 season as far as they could.
It ended Sunday night in the second leg of the MLS Western Conference championship series against a Real Salt Lake side that was very simply better than Portland in every way.
The Timbers had two first-half goals disallowed, and former Oregon State striker Robbie Findley scored a 29th-minute goal for RSL, and Portland fell 1-0 to lose the two-game conference final by an aggregate score of 5-2.
“They’re a great team, and they deserve everything they get,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “As much as we fought them tooth and nail, they deserved to move on.”
Real Salt Lake will travel to face Sporting Kansas City in the MLS Cup on Dec. 7.
Sporting Kansas City advanced after defeating the Houston Dynamo 2-1 aggregate in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Timbers entered Sunday’s match at Jeld-Wen Field needing to make up ground after a 4-2 loss at RSL on Nov. 10.
The Timbers chased the match from the opening whistle. They filled their lineup with three strikers. Frederic Piquionne got the start, and midfielders Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe moved to striker.
To counter the Timbers’ formation, Real Salt Lake dropped numbers and packed in their defenders around the goal.
The result was a dynamic Timbers attack that had Portland pushing the ball into the final third and assaulting the goal with clever passes.
In the 15th minute, the Timbers electrified the crowd — but referee Mark Geiger threw a cold bucket of water on the Portland faithful.
Will Johnson lined up for a corner kick. He sent a beautiful ball into the box. It found the head of Wallace on the left side of the 18-yard box. Wallace headed the ball to the center of the 6-yard box. Defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso made a run and got his head on the ball, sending it into the back of the net.
Just as the celebration was beginning, Geiger blew his whistle and waved the play off, calling a foul on Wallace for pushing a defender.
“If that first goal stands, the game is different,” Porter said. “I’m not making excuses, and I’m not going to blame the ref. But I didn’t think it was his best day today, if I’m being honest.
“The first goal was a factor, for sure. I’m left scratching my head for what he saw on that play. It was a phantom call. I don’t know what the call was. I’d like to know what the call is.”
In the 29th minute, Real Salt Lake was able to take advantage of a counter-attack.
Luis Gil took a shot from the top of the 18-yard box. Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts made a diving save, but spilled the ball back into the box.
Findley, beat his markers into the box and was there for the rebound. He sent a right-footed shot into the center of the net. Ricketts had not even gotten up from the ground yet as the ball crossed the goal line.
The 1-0 lead translated into an aggregate three-goal advantage for RSL, and all but broke the Timbers’ back.
“It’s a rebound goal, and that was tough,” Porter said. “It was deflating, for sure.”
In the 33rd minute, Portland midfielder Diego Valeri received a pass in the box and fired a shot that bounced off RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. The ball went back into the box, where Danso was charging in for a shot that found the net.
Danso was whistled for offside, though. The call drew ubiquitous boos from the crowd, and the Timbers still trailed 1-0 going to halftime.
Portland finished the half with .563 percent of the possession. The Timbers took eight shots and put one ball on frame. Real Salt Lake took six shots and put two shots on target.
Much of the fire seemed to leave the Timbers as the second half began. The clever passes were no longer there. The intensity and the will to push the ball up the pitch also were gone.
While the Timbers did not give up another goal, they also were unable to score one.
Portland finished the match with .549 percent of the possession. The Timbers took 18 shots and put two shots on target. Real Salt Lake had seven shots and put three balls on frame.
The 2014 season is only three months away.
“When we’re back,” Porter said, “and we will be back, we’ll do better.”