SANDY — After squandering an early lead and then falling behind to nemesis Portland on Saturday, Real Salt Lake fought back to earn a valuable point on a night it definitely wasn’t at its best.
RSL still hasn’t beat Portland in eight straight matches, but considering it trailed in the second half, the 2-2 draw after a nearly three-week hiatus from league play had to feel like a positive.
“You always want three points, and that’s our main objective every time. There are going to be times a draw, no harm, no foul, but there wasn’t anyone out on that field that wasn’t trying to get those three points and really passive,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. “Now I do think that way at the end of the day against Wilmington, but tonight it was not that case.”
RSL remained in third place in the Western Conference with the draw, but the Timbers were the first team in five tries this season to deny the home side maximum points as it now sits 4-0-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Things weren’t looking good at halftime on keeping that unblemished record intact with Portland leading 2-1.
RSL benefitted from a penalty kick call in the 70th minute though, with Yura Movsisyan burying the equalizer. That goal denied Portland a fourth straight win at Rio Tinto Stadium, and made amends for a lot of giveaways in the midfield.
“I think we made a couple of mistakes especially with the ball in the half of the field, and that’s dangerous,” said Javier Morales. “We have to improve when we try to work it up from the back to the top, we have to be smart and not lose those balls in the middle.”
Real Salt Lake opened the scoring in the 17th minute on the fifth goal of the season from Juan Manuel Martinez, who elevated at the far post to head home a Morales corner kick. The goal moved Martinez into a tie for the team lead with Joao Plata.
RSL held the lead for less than 15 minutes. In the 29th minute, Timbers striker Fernando Adi outmuscled Justen Glad to a Jermaine Taylor through ball from midfield, dribbling into the box and then slapping a shot between Nick Rimando’s legs, tying the game 1-1.
“I thought we put them on their back foot a lot (early), and then after we scored we went away from it. … We started to come narrow and play narrow, and turn the ball over in poor areas, and they kind of started to get into a rhythm,” said Cassar.
The match was already chippy to begin with, but it intensified after both teams were frustrated conceding early goals.
In the 33rd minute, Ben Zemanski and Diego Chara were shown yellow cards within seconds of each other after taking out Sunday Stephen and Martinez respectively — the ref let RSL play advantage before handing out both yellows.
Stephen had vengeance in his mind in the 36th minute when he nearly drilled former RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy with a ball after the whistle.
The contention lasted the remainder of the first half, and Portland dealt with it much better. It eventually grabbed a 2-1 lead in the 44th minute as Lucas Melano drilled home a Diego Valeri rebounded shot that banged off the post.
Portland continued the momentum well into the second half, possessing the ball during long stretches. RSL still had chances. In the 60th minute, Martinez chipped an empty-netter over the crossbar, and then eight minutes later substitute Jordan Allen sent a screamer wide of the post.
In the 70th minute, the ref handed RSL a lifeline, awarding a penalty kick when Movsisyan was tripped up at the edge of the box. Taylor got to the ball first, but the ref deemed he committed a foul in the process.
“PK, I’ve seen it go either way,” said Portland coach Caleb Porter. “There’s 15 fouls in the game that aren’t called that same exact thing, but you’ve got to give credit to Movsisyan, he sold it.”
Movsisyan buried the penalty just past the finger tips of Portland keeper Jake Gleeson, leveling the score at 2-2.
Porter wasn’t too frustrated about the penalty call, but rather Darren Mattocks’ goal being waved off for offsides in the 84th minute after a sequence of missed clearances by RSL.
RSL returns to action next Wednesday when it hosts the red-hot New York Red Bulls, who headed into Sunday’s match at Seattle winners of three straight league games — outscoring its opponents 11-0.
James Edward is the Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org