The Portland Timbers could have put their stamp on the league tonight as they took on Real Salt Lake in a match between 1st and 2nd in the Western Conference. Instead they failed to extend their lead in the standings thanks to a 0-0 draw that saw the Timbers fail to find a way around Nick Rimando.
The first half was characterized more by the scoring chances that failed to materialize than those that did. With both teams putting early pressure on the ball and clogging up the midfield, neither team managed to string many passes together. Through the first 45', the Timbers only managed 65% passing accuracy in 161 attempts, while Salt Lake were able to marginally improve on that number as they completed 66% of 205 attempts.
More damningly, neither team was able to get a shot on goal in the first half.
The play in the half was not aided by a large number of calls from referee Kevin Stott, who did not endear himself to the Timbers Army. With 15 fouls in the first half alone, eight of which were called against the Timbers, the was no rhythm to be had for either team, despite a 57% possession advantage for RSL.
The best chance of the first half was not even a shot on goal. In the 42', Jack Jewsbury fed a ball down the Timbers' right sideline to Jose Adolfo Valencia, who shouldered off his defender and managed to turn the corner along the touch line. With another defender oncoming, Trencito calmly rolled the ball around him before sliding a pass across the face of goal and past Rimando to Kalif Alhassan who was crashing the back post. Alhassan slid, foot out, but could not make contact as the ball rolled past the net and out of bounds.
In the second half Real Salt Lake continued to control the possession, stilted though it was, but the Timbers began to find some success success on the counter, while RSL seemed to be playing for the tie.
The match's first shot on goal came in the 62' on a Timbers' counter-attack. When a Michael Harrington cross into the RSL box was cleared poorly and landed at the feet of Jack Jewsbury, the club captain took a touch forward and slid a low, hard cross into the box. Rodney Wallace dove for the ball, but his attempt was fouled by a deflection from an RSL defender, knocking the ball into the path of Kalif Alhassan, with only Rimando between him and the goal. Kalif went low and so did Rimando, smothering the chance and leaving Kalif holding his head incredulously.
The next shot on goal came in the 89' as Michael Harrington sent a long diagonal cross into the box. Frederic Piquionne, who got 22' in his second game since returning from injury, showed off the aerial skills that the Timbers have been missing in the box, flicking on the cross with a header that looked destined for the upper corner, only to have Rimando pop up and snag the ball out of the air.
The Timbers' best and final chance came in second half stoppage time. After battling with the defenders along the periphery of the RSL box, Piquionne was hauled down and earned a free kick. Will Johnson stood over the ball and, after several pauses while Stott pushed back the RSL wall, cracked a hard, knuckling free kick right at Rimando. As the ball dipped down, looking like it might sneak under the crossbar, Rimando shot a hand up and barely blocked it away. With the RSL keeper on the ground the ball fell to Sal Zizzo who headed it back on goal, only to find Rimando springing to his feet and getting a miraculous glove on the ball again, snuffing out the chance for good.