The Portland Timbers beat Real Salt Lake 2-1 on Saturday evening, taking their third win in a row and continuing their march back up the table after going winless in their first six matches.
After a Diego Valeri cross was whipped across the face of the RSL goal in the opening moments of the match, things settled into a stalemate with the home side holding the bulk of the possession in the attacking end. For their part, the Timbers settled into the same strong defensive shape that had served them well over the last two matches, looking to pick their moments to pressure the ball while shutting down the center of the pitch.
The Timbers kept up their strong defending until the 23rd minute when Salt Lake got forward and found Jefferson Savarino on the edge of the box for a curled cross in with Zarek Valentin closing him down. Savarino’s cross deflected off Valentin and fell simply to Steve Clark in goal. Moments later, however, the play was whistled back for a video review and referee Ramy Touchan awarded RSL a penalty as the ball had hit Valentin on the arm.
Designated player Albert Rusnak stepped up to the spot, facing down Clark, then strode forward and placed his shot. The ball looked destined for the lower corner of Clark’s goal, but the Timbers’ keeper dove at full extension and was able to push the ball wide of the post, preserving the 0-0 scoreline.
In the 34th minute the Timbers turned the tables on RSL, getting forward on the break and working the ball around the edge of the box. Finally, Diego Valeri played a drop pass from out on the wing back to Sebastian Blanco at the top of the box. Blanco took a touch forward before squeezing a shot off between two defenders that forced RSL keeper Andrew Putna to knock the ball down in his box. As the ball bounced free in the box, Blanco was the first to react, scrambling forward and smashing a volleyed shot toward goal that Putna could only wave at before it hit the back of the net for a 1-0 Timbers lead.
Real came out of the half looking energized and determined to catch the Timbers off balance, and in the 53rd minute they were almost able to pull one back after sending a long ball down the pitch to Savarino, who brought the ball down out wide before cutting inside and hitting a curling shot that forced Clark into a diving save.
After their first chance of the half went wanting, the home side capitalized on their second to pull even in the 62nd minute. After getting the ball down outside the Timbers box, Nick Besler slipped a low pass forward to winger Corey Baird who flicked the ball on and found the feet of designated player forward Sam Johnson. Johnson turned on the ball and got off a toe-poked shot toward the near post that evaded Clark, nicked the post, and crossed the line to bring the score to 1-1.
In the 68th minute the Timbers regained their lead after again refusing to give up on a loose ball in the RSL box. Working the ball down the right flank through the fresh legs of substitute Andy Polo, the Timbers found Blanco in the RSL box and again the Argentine was able to get a shot off only to see it blocked away by the chest of Justin Glad. This time the rebound fell close to Valeri and it was the Maestro’s chance for a volleyed shot. Valeri made good contact and sent a low, strong shot through traffic and past the dive of Putna before it nestled into the side netting to put the Timbers back in front. The goal from Valeri was his 70th regular season goal since joining the Timbers, making him the only active MLS player with 70 goals and 70 assists.
As the match wore down the home side seemed ground down and struggled to put any pressure on the Timbers, who were more than happy to pass the ball around the midfield when in possession and bunker down when they were not.
The Timbers have their first Cascadia Cup match of the season next weekend when they travel north to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps on Friday, May 10th.