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Blanco is the man; Portland Timbers win 4-1 at Real Salt Lake

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers went on the road and won big tonight against a Real Salt Lake side that had only given up three points at home once all year. With a solid defensive performance around him, Sebastian Blanco was in control of the match, bagging two goals and an assist as the Timbers won 4-1.

For the second match in a row, the Timbers came out in a decidedly defensive mindset, looking to smother RSL’s exciting young attackers and occasionally put together a chance on the break.

While the home side were able to break down the flanks with some regularity in the first half, the Timbers’ game plan paid dividends in the 33rd minute when the visitors were able to get the ball down the pitch and keep play pinned in the RSL end. The Timbers found Blanco out wide on the right flank and the Argentine broke forward with the ball before whipping a low cross in behind the Salt Lake back line for the back post run of Jeremy Ebobisse. As the ball rolled to him, Ebobisse slid forward to meet it, wrong footing RSL keeper Nick Rimando with his shot and putting the Timbers up 1-0.

It was up to keeper Steve Clark to preserve that lead when, late in the first half, RSL played forward Jefferson Savarino in behind the Timbers back line. With Savarino racing toward the ball after an errant first touch, Clark was quick off his line and slid in to punch the ball away just before the RSL man could control it.

The Timbers nearly struck again in the 48th minute when Andy Polo cut a ball into the RSL box from the end line into the path of Blanco. Blanco was able to get a boot to the ball, but with Rimando in front of him and defenders on either side, he could not find an opening to put the chance away.

In the 54th minute, RSL were able to pull one back, but the goal was not without controversy. Off a corner kick, Kyle Beckerman appeared to trip David Guzman and push him to the ground with a hand to the face. Referee Robert Sibega, however, did not call the foul and as a result, Guzman was forced to leave the field when the Timbers trainer came out to see to him. On the following play, without Guzman on the pitch, Savarino played a quick one-two pass off Joao Plata into the Timbers box, before hitting a curling shot through traffic that neither Clark nor a pair of defenders could get a touch on, picking out the back of the net and evening up the score at 1-1.

Now back in the game, RSL redoubled their efforts and were rewarded with a series of half chances on goal only for the Timbers defense to stand firm.

With the pressure mounting from the home side, it was the Timbers who would grab the go-ahead goal. In the 70th minute, Blanco brought down a bouncing ball outside the RSL box, took a strong touch forward in on goal, and hit a low shot that sent Rimando sprawling across the face of goal before it picked out the inside of the far post to restore the Timbers lead.

Moments later the Timbers struck again. In the 73rd minute, the Timbers brought the ball down in the RSL half and played a series of short, quick passes across the box, culminating in Diego Valeri rolling a ball toward the end line for an overlapping run from Blanco. With a defender bearing down on the ball, Blanco managed to get there first and hit a curling strike that gave Rimando no chance at making a save before it splashed into the back of the net.

Finally, in the 88th minute, Lucas Melano added to RSL’s misery by capitalizing on a poor throw-in deep in the home end. Former Timber Nick Besler sent a bouncing throw in toward Rimando in goal, but Melano was wise to the play and reacted just in time to pop the ball up and over Rimando, bring it down, and tap it into the back of the net for the 4-1 lead.

The Timbers are off next weekend, but will be back at Providence Park on October 21st to host RSL in their second-to-last match of the regular season.