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Portland Timbers Struggle at Altitude in 4-2 Loss to Real Salt Lake

The Portland Timbers dug themselves a two goal hole in the first leg of the Western Conference Final.

George Frey

The Portland Timbers came away from the opening leg of the Western Conference Final with a 4-2 loss as they struggled against a well-conditioned Real Salt Lake side. The Timbers were played off the pitch for large stretches of the game, but still managed to bookend the match with a pair of goals to keep the home leg on the 24th interesting.

Despite struggling to hold possession in the early going, the Timbers started off the first half on a high in the 14' when Diego Valeri was taken down on the edge of the box by RSL fullback Chris Wingert with a tackle that would eventually see the defender taken out of the game with a broken rib. Will Johnson lined up to take the kick against his former team, sending a swerving knuckle-ball of a shot through a gap in the wall that wrong-footed Nick Rimando and buried itself in the back of the net.

The Timbers' lead was short lived, however, as RSL began to convert their advantage in possession into some serious pressure on Portland's goal. In the 35' that pressure paid off as Javier Morales sent a curling corner into the box. Chris Schuler, who scored the extra-time goal that sent RSL past the LA Galaxy in the Conference Semifinals, rose above Futty Danso and sent a well placed header past a frozen Donovan Ricketts and into the goal.

Only six minutes later, in the 41', things got worse for the Timbers. Futty, carrying the ball back toward the Timbers' goal, found himself under pressure from Robbie Findley. With Findley nipping at his heels, Futty took a poor touch on the ball, turning it over and putting Findley in one on one with Ricketts. Findley calmly slotted the ball around Ricketts, putting the Timbers down 2-1 as the half came to a close.

The second half of the match started off with more of the same as RSL attacked down their right flank in the 49'. With the Timbers' defenders spread across the pitch, Findley found a seam to run into, pulling Futty out of position before slipping the ball inside to Devon Sandoval. Sandoval took a touch away from Jack Jewsbury and took a low shot that a sprawling Ricketts could not get a foot to.

RSL were not done with three, however, as they put in yet another goal in the 82'. With the Timbers working their way back into the game and finally holding some possession in the opposing half, RSL earned their seventh corner kick of the evening after Donovan Ricketts came up with a highlight reel save while palming away a header from Sandoval. Second half substitute Joao Plata swung in a corner that was met with a diving header from Morales. The header skimmed off the leg of Frederic Piquionne and the hands of Ricketts before its spin carried it over the Timbers' keeper and into the goal.

Just as the final seconds of stoppage time ticked off the clock with the Timbers looking dead in the water, a ray of hope suddenly shown down on the pitch. From the right sideline Jewsbury chipped a long, diagonal pass into the box. Frederic Piquionne lept above the RSL defense to head the ball home, pulling the Timbers back to within two. The goal was the final play of the match and left the scoreline at 4-2.