Sebastian Blanco led the Portland Timbers to a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake in Utah Wednesday, scoring twice and forcing an own goal. The victory guarantees that the Timbers will host a playoff match in Providence Park.
The Timbers clinched a playoff spot after the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-1 draw with LAFC on Wednesday, but securing the fourth seed in the Western Conference was still on the line as they traveled to Rio Tinto Stadium for their penultimate regular season match against Real Salt Lake.
Possibly even more difficult than the task at hand for the Timbers - win and secure fourth seed - was attempting to watch/stream the beginning of the match for Timbers fans and Stumptown Footy writers alike.
When ESPN finally got their things in order, I was able to tune in to the match literally seconds before Sebastian Blanco’s 17th-minute opening goal, a close-range header off of a knockdown from a Timbers’ corner. I wrote in my last Post-slab pint that I was worried about how the team would fare if Blanco wasn’t able to start but luckily that didn’t end up mattering, as Blanco notched his fifth of the season.
The Timbers nearly doubled their lead in the 25th minute, when Jaroslaw Niezgoda’s header hit the inside of the post after a Blanco cross. On the other end of the pitch, RSL hit the post for the second time in as many minutes, when Justen Glad’s floating header hit the top of Steve Clark’s crossbar.
In the 37th minute, Yimmi Chara would become the third player to send a shot off of the frame of the goal, when his whipped free kick from the left of the RSL 18-yard box cannoned off the crossbar. But just when you thought it might be one of those nights in regards to hitting the woodwork, Blanco did what Blanco does, making Justen Glad toss and turn before rifling a low cross that Aaron Herrera steered into his own net.
The Timbers rounded out one of their most comprehensive halves of soccer in 2021 with a third goal in the 44th minute. Blanco was once again the alpha and omega of the Portland move, driving forward with the ball and playing a swift give and go with Niezgoda before streaking unmarked into the box and striking the ball into the back of the net.
So when the dust settled on a whirlwind first half, the scoreboard read RSL 0-3 (yes correct) Timbers. A more-than-impressive display from a team on the road against an opponent desperately trying to get into one of the final Western Conference playoff spots.
In the second half, RSL needed to find a goal and quickly for them to have any chance to find their way back into the game. They tried their best to play the role of the aggressors, but the Timbers were more than up to the task.
Almost the entirety of the second half was defined by Portland suffocating Real Salt Lake’s attack. The Timbers sat in a low block and dared RSL to beat them down the wings or over the top. The hosts could do neither, and they barely created significant offense for most of the final frame. Portland held them to just eight shots in the second half, and until the 86th minute, only two of those were on frame.
In the 86th minute, RSL pulled one goal back. Claudio Bravo was booked for a handball in the penalty area. Albert Rusnak stepped up to the spot and converted. The goal came too late for Real Salt Lake and the Timbers snuffed out any hope of a late surge, seeing out a 3-1 victory that would ensure that the Timbers would host a playoff match in Providence Park.
The Timbers will host Austin FC in Providence Park on November 7 - MLS Decision Day. The match is scheduled to kick off at 3:00 p.m. PST.