The Portland Timbers put in a strong defensive performance on Saturday night, shutting out visiting Real Salt Lake in a 1-0 win to break their two-game losing streak. The match was punctuated by an opening goal from Diego Valeri and a closing red card from Renzo Zambrano, and six big saves from keeper Steve Clark.
The opening moments of the match saw both teams threaten to score with attacks cutting in from the flanks. First the Timbers found Brian Fernandez in behind the RSL back line, but the forward’s low-angle shot safely hit the side netting of Nick Rimando’s goal. Then the visitors gave Steve Clark a scare when a square ball across the face of goal forced him to knock the ball down in the box, but the Timbers’ keeper was able to dive on the rebound before anyone else could get to it.
With those pleasantries out of the way, the match resolved into a wide-open affair with both sides looking to break swiftly down the pitch and catch their opponents off balance.
Real was first to force a save on the night, finding a crack in the Timbers’ defenses on a break out of their own. Following a Timbers corner kick in the 10th minute, RSL hit out down the pitch, carrying the ball forward for a three on three chance. Outside the Timbers box, Albert Rusnak found space enough to fire off a shot from distance that clipped a defender and skipped toward the far post. The deflection had taken the steam out of the shot, however, and Clark was able to read it comfortably, getting down to make the safe save.
After a quarter of an hour of both teams charging at each other, the match began to settle down with the Timbers in control and Real looking to counter.
Having penned the visitors up in their defensive end, the Timbers were able to take advantage of the space in front of the RSL back line, finding Diego Valeri for a shot form distance of his own. The Maestro brought the ball down after an interception broke up an attempted counter from Salt Lake and, with no defenders near by, drove a laser-straight shot toward the near post that had Rimando diving across his goal in vain before it rippled the back of the net to give the Timbers a 1-0 lead.
The Timbers had another chance with a shot from distance in the 29th minute when Fernandez intercepted a weak pass across the RSL back line from Aaron Herrera. In space outside the Salt Lake box, Fernandez hit a curling ball toward the far post, but this time Rimando had the time and balance to snag the ball out of the air.
In the 34th minute, it was Sebastian Blanco’s turn to have a go when the Argentine No. 10 received the ball out wide on the Timbers’ left and cut inside before snapping off a shot from just inside the box that skipped toward the far post only for Rimando to make the save.
The first half wrapped up with another chance from distance for the Timbers when, in stoppage time, a Brian Fernandez cross was deflected into space at the top of the box. Running onto the ball, Diego Chara waved off Blanco, took a touch forward, and fired off a shot of his own. As Timbers fans gasped collectively gasped, Chara’s shot flew toward goal, but rose too much, ending up just over the bar and out for a corner kick that would never come as referee Nima Saghafi instead blew the whistle to end the half.
After the half, Real came out of the locker room energized and ready to bring the game to the Timbers. Working the ball around the Timbers box, the visitors found the late run from Kelyn Rowe at the top of the box and the Seattle product popped off a curling shot that looked set to dip below the bar before a finger-tip save from Clark touched it up and over for a corner.
Form there the pressure on the Timbers continued to mount, with RSL stymying their attempts to break out and forcing them into inopportune attempts to clear.
Finally, in the 56th minute, the Timbers were able to get the ball out of their end and string together a series of passes in the attacking end. After cycling the ball around the top of the box, the Timbers found Jorge Moreira out wide for a square ball across the top of the box that found Jeremy Ebobisse. As the ball rolled to him with his back to goal, Ebobisse played a simple drop pass into the path Blanco at the top of the box. In traffic, Blanco managed to get off a quick, low shot at the near post, but Rimando got down and made the stop, holding onto the ball.
In the 66th minute Salt Lake caught the Timbers napping with a long ball over the top that skipped over the head of Bill Tuiloma before being collected by Jefferson Savarino . With a defender on his back, Savarino played the ball across the top of the box, finding Damir Kreilach for a powerful shot straight at Clark that forced the keeper to knock the ball down in the box, but again Clark was able to recover the ball before the opposition could pounce.
The Timbers came close to extending their lead in the 71st minute after Chara picked the pocket of Everton Luiz in the Salt Lake end and caught the visitors off balance. A quick pass from Chara found Valeri at the top of the box and, as RSL defender closed him down, the Maestro played a chipped ball toward the back post where Fernandez was waiting. As the ball fell to the Timbers designated player, Rimando was turning to scramble across the face of goal, arriving just in time to punch Fernandez’s diving header away to safety.
In the 81st minute, as the Timbers Army were starting to sing “You Are My Sunshine”, Clark was called into action again. A move down the Timbers’ left put Herrera on the ball and running at his defender and, as his man backed up, the full back cut inside and fired a shot at the near post that forced Clark to hit the ground quickly in order to put a glove to the ball.
Things got dicey for the Timbers in the final moments of the match, when a foul on the edge of the Timbers box gave RSL a dangerous free kick in the final minute of stoppage time and led to a red card for substitute Renzo Zambrano. On the ensuing free kick, Albert Rusnak put his shot under the Timbers wall and on course to pick out the inside of the far post, but Clark was up for the moment and got low to push the ball wide. The ball stayed in play and Herrera was the first to it, but he could only blaze the final attempt of the game well over the bar.
The Timbers continue their homestead next Saturday, September 7th, when they host recently resurgent Sporting Kansas City.