Sandy • The ball hung in the air for a moment before Javier Morales made his move.
The Real Salt Lake midfielder jumped and fell backward to the ground, striking the ball with an overhead kick that sent it off the post and into the back of the net. The shot left Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts stunned and the crowd of 20,252 in a frenzy.
If RSL wanted to make a statement Friday night on national television, Morales’ 54th-minute bicycle kick, part of a 4-2 stomping of the Timbers, was certainly that.
“When you score goals, it just breeds more confidence to get even more goals,” Kyle Beckerman said.
After waiting on late heroics to salvage a 3-3 draw earlier this month in Portland, RSL gave those watching little in the way of suspense Friday.
Salt Lake scored twice in the game’s first 15 minutes and then twice more in the second half to secure the win, and give itself a little room to breathe in the race for the Supporters’ Shield. RSL now leads the league with 48 points, seven clear of the Montreal Impact.
RSL forward Joao Plata had two assists and a goal on the night, helping put his team in the driver’s seat early. Plata’s goal was the last of a terrific sequence of passes to free up midfielder Luis Gil in the box. The teenager threaded a far-post shot past Ricketts to give RSL a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute.
In the 15th minute, Plata took defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste on one-on-one, creating just enough space to fire off a shot that gave RSL a 2-0 lead.
“What we were able to do to get at them early on, I think, changed the landscape of the whole match,” Kreis said.
Portland’s counterattack led to a long, bouncing shot from Darlington Nagbe that seemed to take RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando by surprise.
But the Timbers suffered a pair of major losses after the goal.
Attacker Diego Valeri, the team’s best playmaker, left with an injury. Then, in stoppage time, midfielder Ben Zemanski was shown a red card for a tackle on RSL’s Ned Grabavoy, leaving the Timbers down a man for the final 45 minutes.
If Portland had any hopes of getting back into the game, Morales squashed them with his brilliant 54th-minute strike. And forward Alvaro Saborio, back after missing two games with a calf strain, headed home a Morales free kick to erase any remaining doubt.
Portland’s Sal Zizzo scored a second-half goal, cleaning up a rebound of his own shot, to cut the lead, but by then the outcome had been all but decided.
The win came at a critical point, Kreis said, as RSL won’t play again until Sept. 13 in Seattle.
“That’s the one area I kept thinking about today was how long two weeks was going to be if we didn’t get a proper result tonight or a proper effort from the guys,” Kreis said after the game. “I’m really really pleased that we got a win and got an emphatic win. Now we can take a break.”
O Forward Joao Plata, pictured, scores and notches two assists in the win.
• Alvaro Saborio scores his 10th goal of the season in his return from a strained calf that kept him out of the last two games.
RSL 4, Portland 2
Portland 1 1 — 2
Real Salt Lake 2 2 — 4
First half » 1, Real Salt Lake, Gil 5 (Plata, Beckerman), 9th minute. 2, Real Salt Lake, Plata 3 (Grabavoy), 15th. 3, Portland, Nagbe 8 (Harrington), 31st.
Second half » 4, Real Salt Lake, Morales 7 (Plata), 55th. 5, Real Salt Lake, Saborio 10 (Morales), 67th. 6, Portland, Zizzo 1, 78th.
Goalies » Portland, Donovan Ricketts Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando.
Yellow Cards • Salcedo, Real Salt Lake, 40th. Jean-Baptiste, Portland, 44th . Plata, Real Salt Lake, 44th. Gil, Real Salt Lake, 48th. Beckerman, Real Salt Lake, 58th. Chara, Portland, 65th.
Red Cards • Zemanski, Portland, 45th+.
Referee • Baldomero Toledo. Assistant Referees • Corey Rockwell. C.J. Morgante. 4th Official • Robert Sibiga.
Attendance » 20,252 (20,008)
Portland • Donovan Ricketts, Rodney Wallace, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Rauwshan McKenzie, Michael Harrington, Darlington Nagbe (Sal Zizzo, 74th), Diego Chara, Kalif Alhassan, Ben Zemanski, Diego Valeri (Alvas Powell, 32nd), Ryan Johnson (Jose Valencia, 46th). Real Salt Lake • Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Carlos Salcedo, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Luis Gil (Sebastian Velasquez, 72nd), Joao Plata (Robbie Findley, 61st), Alvaro Saborio.