Real Salt Lake traveled to Portland Saturday night to face a Timbers side it led in the Western Conference standings by a point, as RSL played its final game of a three-game road stretch.
Goals were plentiful in a matchup that featured five combined tallies on the scoresheet, but it was Portland who secured the 3-2 victory over RSL to grab itself three points.
Dairon Asprilla scored a penalty kick and Yimmi Chara slotted home a second goal for Portland, all before the 30-minute mark. Albert Rusnák was able to pull a goal back for RSL before halftime, but The Claret and Cobalt found themselves trailing at half for the first time all season.
RSL came out of halftime on the front foot, dominating possession, but a defensive breakdown allowed Portland’s Felipe Mora to get in behind, unmarked, for the Timbers’ third goal of the game. Damir Kreilach slotted home a goal in the 80th minute to bring Real Salt Lake within a goal and create tense final minutes as the team searched for an equalizer, but Portland defended through the last moments to secure a win.
The result is a tough one to swallow for a Real Salt Lake squad that created more chances but had a few bad breaks and mental lapses defensively. The match was the first time that RSL had conceded more than two goals all season.
RSL came away from the three-game road trip with one point, dropping RSL to eighth place in the Western Conference and putting pressure on the team to perform at home.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s loss for RSL:
Bad luck for Datković
Less than eight minutes in the match, Tony Datković — who was making his debut appearance in an RSL jersey — tried to head away a corner kick service and as he went up for the challenge the ball incidentally touched his arm inside the box. The play was reviewed and the referee pointed to the spot, paving the way for the opening goal from Asprilla.
The conceded penalty was just a severe case of misfortune for the Croatian center-back, who delivered a solid performance in his debut, according to head coach Freddy Juarez.
“Solid performance (from Datković),” Juarez said. “(Portland) is not an easy environment to get started in because of the fans and the turf, but I thought he handled the moment well...We were very pleased with his performance today.”
Goal-scoring chances weren’t in short supply for RSL Saturday night. The Claret and Cobalt finished with 23 shots (nine on target) to Portland’s 13 (three on target), 14 corner kicks, 21 crosses and held nearly 65% of the possession.
RSL looked threatening as it hunted for the third goal, but in the end it wasn’t the attacking side of the ball that lost the game for the club. Rather, there were three or four plays that went Portland’s way and allowed it to hand RSL its sixth loss of the season.
Juarez said that his team’s performance should’ve been enough to get one or three points.
“Listen, I thought today the guys definitely deserved more,” Juarez said. “Looking at the stats, you could say we dominated the game. But leaving the stats aside, the edge in the game just looked like it was coming and coming and it was just a couple plays where they had control.”
Setting the stage for ‘must-win games’ going forward?
The loss lowered RSL outside of the playoff picture and allowed Portland to leapfrog it in the standings.
Now halfway through the season, pressure will be on Real Salt Lake to win its next two games at home against two teams (Austin on Aug. 14 and Houston on Aug. 18) that sit below it in the standings in order to ensure its future playoff hopes. The team’s captain, Rusnák, described the games as “must-win games.”
“We’re under pressure now, we have to win these two home games that we have coming up,” Rusnák said. “Nothing other than three points from each game will be good enough. We have to catch up to these teams that are ahead of us in the table.”