This game stung. No other way to describe it. Portland had a chance to host the US Open Cup final but could not get it done. However the game itself was a lot better than the last few games we saw, apart from our inability to manage set pieces. The game flow looked like a return to the 15 game unbeaten streak.
The game started like most Portland Timbers games have this year, a little slow. Real Salt Lake were looking for the early goal and the were finding the pockets of space behind Will Johnson and Diego Chara and in front of the Center-backs. With RSL able to find the pockets of space this forced Portland's defense out of their compact shape. When Portland did gain possession of the ball RSL played a very high line and this disrupted the Timbers rhythm. All of this combined to lead to an early corner.
On the corner the Timbers won the first ball but failed to clean up the second ball and they got punished. Alvaro Saborio was wide open in the six yard box and he hit his header to the back post and over Donovan Ricketts. After the goal Portland continued did finally find their rhythm and started to play Portland's style.
The shots started to come but none challenged the Nic Rimando until the 40th minute. Andrew Jean Baptiste some how overlapped on the right hand side of the field and had the ball near the edge of the box. His ball towards the penalty spot found an onrushing Will Johnson and his shot was on target. However, Nic Rimando was able to get a hand on it and push it up and over the bar.
The second half was much the same as Portland continued to possess the ball and find the pockets of space in RSL's formation. Portland was not able to find the back of the net and a 78' minute strike from Joao Plata out the game out of reach. Portland was able to get a last gasp goal from Diego Valeri.
Portland just went toe to toe with one of the better teams in the league and had their chances. I understand the frustration and the disappointment but this game was on the road at a place where the home team holds MLS records for most home points in a season (37 in a 30 game season), greatest home goal differential in a season (+24 and they are second on that list with +23), and the record for fewest home goals allowed (7). This is not an easy place to play and RSL has experience playing in situations like this together.
To put this in perspective RSL is what Portland wants to be. Jason Kreis took over mid year 2007 and his first full year was 2008, in which he them to the conference finals. His second year RSL won MLS cup. This is Caleb Porter's first year and you only can overhaul the roster so much but you can see the potential this team has. They are a good team. All teams go through a slump of some kind, this one just coincided with international call-ups and injuries, I have no doubt Portland will bounce back from this and they will make the playoffs.
The future is bright. Keep our highs low and our lows high!