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Portland Timbers gut out a 3-2 home win over Real Salt Lake

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Penalties? Bangers? Spin cycles? Late drama and stress? This one had it all.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In a cool but heated night at Providence Park, the Portland Timbers outlasted Real Salt Lake in a wild and gritty 3-2 affair. A first half penalty kick goal from Dairon Asprilla, followed by a golazo of a finish from Yimmi Chara to finish off a gorgeous team move opened a two goal advantage, only for Albery Rusnak to pull one back and make things interesting. Felipe Mora and Damir Kreilach traded second half strikes, and in the end Portland would do just enough to protect the lead and earn three points on the night.

As has been Portland’s penchant in recent games, they came out the aggressors to start the match. The Timbers were inclined to press quickly when RSL won possession- and it was this exact tactic that lead to the sequence that opened the scoring. In the seventh minute, Cristhian Paredes aptly won the ball via early pressure, and he was dragged down by Justen Glad (who was shown a yellow card). On the ensuing attacking free kick, Yimmi Chara lofted a ball to the far post. George Fochive and RSL centerback Toni Datkovic rose to challenge for the ball, and the ball deflected out off of Datkovic’s left arm. Initially ruled a corner kick, after consulting with the VAR official head referee Rosendo Mendoza went to check the video monitor for a possible penalty.

After reviewing the play, it was adjudged that Datkovic handled the ball, and Mendoza pointed to the spot (with a nice flourish), awarding the Timbers an early penalty kick. Dairon Asprilla stepped up to the spot, and after a slow run up, calmly slotted the ball in the bottom right corner of the goal past Zac MacMath.

Calm, cool, and collected, Portland’s mercurial winger had made it 1-0 in the tenth minute.

The visitors tried to fight back after going down early. Timbers backup goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic, pressed into duty to an injury Steve Clark sustained in Wednesday’s match against San Jose, had to stay tall to tip over an effort from Damir Kreilach in the 22nd minute.

Despite the chance however, it would be Portland who would extend the lead- via one of the prettiest and most free flowing team goals we’ve seen from the Timbers all year.

In the 29th minute, Portland won the ball and sprung Josecarlos Van Rankin in space down the right wing. He drove down the field and found Marvin Loria, who had peeled off in front of his defender. Loria found Asprilla at the top of the box, who laid off a nifty backheel for the streaking in Yimmi Chara.

The younger Chara sized up the ball, and hit an absolute golazo first time. The ball sailed past MacMath and into the net, and Providence Park was sent into jubilation as Portland made it 2-0.

The Timbers had a two goal margin and Timbers fans were feeling good- but then the team took their foot off the gas. Portland dropped their lines a touch and stopped pressuring as high up the field. And RSL was happy to take advantage. The visitors put their foot on the ball more and controlled play as the first half wore on, putting more and more pressure on the Timbers box.

In the 40th minute, that increased pressure paid off. RSL won a corner kick, which the Timbers dealt with. However, Loria almost immediately lost the ball in a bad spot, while most of the Timbers team was streaking forward on the counterattack. RSL collected the ball, worked it around, it fell to the feet of Albert Rusnak in the box. Through traffic, Rusnak turned and shot low towards the near post. The ball slipped past Ivacic, and RSL had made it 2-1 late in the first half.

Portland would ride out the worst of the pressure though, as they entered halftime up 2-1.

Coming out of the break, Portland would introduce Sebastian Blanco in replacement for Marvin Loria, in what would wind up being Seba’s longest run out of the 2021 season. As comes with Blanco’s firey on-field presence, the Timbers came out of the gates pressing once again. They put pressure on RSL with quick movement and passing, with Blanco himself being on the receiving end of some tactical fouls to stop promising Timbers counters.

The pressure wouldn’t pay off- at least, not that early. RSL started to wrestle control back, and it looked like the game was about to settle back into the rhythm of the end of the first half.

Blanco and Felipe Mora would however have other ideas. In the 62nd minute, Blanco collected the ball on the left wing, in the attacking third. He pinged in a perfect ball over the top of the RSL defense for the onrushing Mora, who had somehow ghosted past all of the Salt Lake backline. The Chilean collected beautifully while spinning, and got off a low shot towards the far post while falling backwards.

A picture perfect ball in, plus a Jedi mind trick to convince the RSL defense you don’t exist, plus a spin cycle shot, and you have Portland’s third goal. Portland had restored their two goal margin in the most spectacular of ways.

Up two goals and in the ascendency, it looked like the Timbers were set to pull away for a comfortable win. This feeling was reinforced as Claudio Bravo very nearly opened his MLS account after an awful giveaway from RSL in the 72nd minute- but Bravo sent his shot wide.

Unfortunately, as has also been the penchant for the Timbers, they couldn’t make it easy on themselves. In the 80th minute, RSL launched a ball over the top aimed for Damir Kreilach. The RSL player got past Bill Tuiloma, and rifled a ball into the roof of the net. Out of seemingly nowhere, it was 3-2 with ten minutes left to play. The Timbers would have to protect a late lead at home, much to the consternation of the Portland faithful.

The final ten minutes of the game were a absolute flurry of balls in from RSL- and Portland was just up to the task every time. The introduction of Zac McGraw helped to solidify the backline and increased Portland’s ability to deal with balls in the air, as the Timbers settled into a siege to protect their precious one goal advantage.

The closing stages were marked by close calls and wonderful defensive plays, including a robust McGraw header to clear a shot, and a fantastic Ivacic save right at death. In the end the Timbers would do just enough. As Blanco fired a shot from long range while RSL pulled their goalkeeper up for one final set piece, the final whistle sounded. The Portland Timbers had gutted out a nervy 3-2 win at home.

For a Timbers team that had recently endured a disappointing 1-1 home draw earlier in the week, this was a much needed three points, as it boosted them over the playoff into sixth place in the Western Conference as things stand. And for a fanbase whose frustrations had been steadily building over the course of the season, and sent to near boiling point by the recent trade of Jeremy Ebobisse, it was a much desired step in the right direction.

The job is of course not nearly done for the Timbers. Tonight marks the halfway point of the 2021 season, and if Portland is to reach their lofty goals of hardware by season’s end, they will have to show more consistency and a higher level of performance as the season progresses. But on a night which honored Timber Jim, Portland Timbers fans were made happy, even if the skies were a bit gray.

The Timbers will have a chance to continue their rise next Sunday, with those eternal rivals the Seattle Sounders coming to town. Here’s hoping for some more sunshine then as well.