Sandy • The talk around Rio Tinto Stadium this week was of trophies.
“There comes a point when you have to look back and say, ‘What have you won?’ ” defender Nat Borchers said as he prepared for Real Salt Lake’s Open Cup semifinal against the Portland Timbers.
For all the winning RSL has done over the past five seasons, the team’s 2009 MLS Cup sits alone in its trophy case. But Real took a major step toward giving it company, beating the Timbers 2-1 Wednesday night to advance to the U.S. Open Cup final for the first time in franchise history.
RSL will host D.C. United, one of the worst clubs in the league this year, in early October, for a chance at a title and an opportunity to help cement a group’s legacy.
“There are only so many opportunities you’re going to get in your carer to play in a final and this is one of them,” Chris Wingert said. “Any championship that you win in professional sports is a big deal and will mean a lot to the club, and we’re here. So hopefully we take advantage.”
Against the Timbers, RSL forward Alvaro Saborio pushed his team out to an early lead, heading home a beautiful Kyle Beckerman cross in just the seventh minute.
But with the early goal came a more focused Timbers attack and more hesitant play from RSL, forcing a crowd of 14,700-plus to anxiously watch a Salt Lake team that had conceded second-half leads in three straight games.
“They were a little bit nervous. They scored the first goal — again,” RSL coach Jason Kreis said. “So when we had the ball, I felt like were already defending and that caused a lot of problems.”
If Wednesday’s contest is to be a harbinger, RSL has plenty to be concerned about when it comes to Portland, an upstart team lurking behind them in the Western Conference standings, and a side Salt Lake will see two more times this month alone.
Caleb Porter’s Timbers controlled possession and looked dangerous at times.
Forward Ryan Johnson saw a header clank off the near post in stoppage time before it was cleared harmlessly away. Former Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson ripped a clean shot from 15 yards out late in the first half that might have equalized things if not for another heroic Nick Rimando save.
“Another amazing game” for Rimando, Kreis said. “I need to figure out what he’s eating.”
RSL forward Joao Plata came off the bench and quickly gave fans some room for comfort, ripping a shot past the outstretched arms of Portland’s Donovan Ricketts in the 78th minute. It was another terrific night for Plata, who Kreis said probably should be starting more.
“But what he has done is come off the bench and provided us a spark every time he comes on and been really effective in that role,” Kreis said.
Portland playmaker Diego Valeri provided some drama, scoring a stoppage time header to cut RSL’s lead in half.
Even as Salt Lake’s attention returns to league play, the chance at an Open Cup title will loom large.
“We’ve had a lot of really momentous occasions the past several years, a lot of big games that we’ve looked forward to and did a lot of talking about, and oftentimes felt all we needed to do was show up and we would win,” Kreis said. “And this will be the same match. D.C. United has struggled this year, we’ll be in our building, we’ll be the favorites. And we’ll see if we can do what we have never done before, which is actually win one of those damn games.”
O Forward Alvaro Saborio’s seventh-minute header was his fifth goal in three games since returning from international play.
• Kyle Beckerman was credited with two assists.
• The RSL back four combination of Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran and Carlos Salcedo has never lost when playing together.