PORTLAND, Oregon – Real Salt Lake traveled to Portland to take on the defending MLS Cup champions and nearly stunned the crowd of over 21,000 at Providence Park on Saturday night. The visitors had a 2-0 lead with 20 minutes to go, but a pair of red cards left RSL severely undermanned and they had to settle for a 2-2 draw.
"It's a little disappointing to not get all three points when you're up 2-0," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said after the game. "But I'm happy to see the guys fight and give it their all in front of me."
Joao Plata notched his team-leading third goal of the season, and Yura Movsisyan scored his first goal for the Claret-and-Cobalt since leaving for Europe following the 2009 season. Javier Morales made his return to the lineup after sitting out last weekend's 2-1 victory at home against Seattle with a hip injury, though his night ended early after re-aggravating the injury in the 55th minute.
Real Salt Lake was on the back foot for the first 10 minutes of the match, absorbing a number of promising Portland attacks. One of those attacks almost resulted in the home side taking an early lead in the second minute, but the goal was called back for offside.
RSL slowly settled in, put together some bits of possession, and used an active Movsisyan up top as a pressure-relieve valve to escape Portland's high pressure. It all culminated in the game's opening goal in the 16th minute when Plata found the back of the net off a free kick from 20 yards out.
The opportunity was set up when an errant Portland pass found Juan Manuel Martinez. After driving toward the Timbers goal he was dispossessed by Diego Chara, but Martinez snuck around the diminutive Colombian to win the ball back and subsequently earn the free kick.
The goal put a bit of pep in the steps of the Real Salt Lake players, but any energy gained from taking the lead on the road against the defending champions was smothered 15 minutes later as Kyle Beckerman was sent off with a straight red card following a harsh tackle on Portland forward Fanendo Adi.
Following a flury of Timbers' chances to finish the half, RSL took a 1-0 lead into the break.
The second half started much the same as the first, with RSL absorbing a plethora of Portland attacks and close shots, resulting in plenty of work for Rimando.
But Movsisyan performed his greatest pressure-relieving trick of the night when he scored on a breakaway in the 58th minute to give the shorthanded visitors a 2-0 lead.
"Any time we can get Yura one on one with a center back – doesn't matter who it is – I like our chances, RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said. He needed to be rewarded for all the hard work he's been doing.
Both teams made a pair of substitutions, Portland for more attacking options and RSL due to injuries (Morales and Movsisyan), and Salt Lake soldiered on for the remaining 20 minutes under constant threat from Portland.
The home side pulled one back in the 79th minute when RSL was unable to adequately clear a corner. A Dairon Asprilla shot bounced off the crossbar and Adi was there to put the rebound past Rimando.
Real Salt Lake might have been able to weather the storm and see out a victory, but their chances took a huge hit when Jamison Olave was sent off in the 83rd minute for an elbow to the face of Adi in the box. Adi buried the resulting penalty to bring the home side level.
"We've got to make sure we're working on our discipline and trying to keep eleven players on the field, said Cassar. "I don't think any [of the red cards] were malicious. I think they were quick decisions that were made, and when you leave your feet and leave your cleats exposed, you leave it up to the referee to make a tough decision. I don't think any of them were dirty, I don't think we're that type of team at all"
The Timbers pressed on through the final seven minutes of regulation and six minutes of added time. It took a number of good saves from Rimando and a massive 41 clearances from the RSL defense, but they were able to hold tight and keep Portland from finding a winner.
"We seem to make these games really exciting," Cassar said. "These first three have been nail-biters. A point here at Providence Park is a good thing and there are areas for us to improve and I'm excited about that."
RSL, unbeaten so far this young season, improve to 1-0-2. After a bye next weekend, the team is back on the road again when they pay a visit to Sporting Kansas City on April 2.