Portland, Ore. • In what was most crucial regular-season match of the season, neither Real Salt Lake nor the Portland Timbers could afford to make a mistake that would haunt them.
Neither team did.
RSL and Portland ended the monumentally important match 0-0 Saturday night at JELD-WEN Field in Portland, Ore.
“So pleased to come to a very dangerous team in Portland and a very dangerous stadium and to walk away with a clean sheet and a point,” said RSL head coach Jason Kreis in a postgame interview.
While the Timbers clinched their 2013 MLS Playoff Cup berth thanks to Seattle’s 2-0 loss at FC Dallas earlier Saturday, RSL thought it needed a win over Portland to punch its sixth-straight MLS playoff ticket.
As it turned out, RSL clinched the berth due to tie-breakers held through goals scored over San Jose.
In like many previous key moments of high-profile matches, goalkeeper Nick Rimando stonewalled the most dangerous chances of the evening at the most important times.
As former RSL midfielder Will Johnson lined up for a threatening free kick 20 yards from goal in the 93rd minute, it was Rimando’s heroics which kept his team alive in and in the hunt for the Western Conference title.
“I was able to get my mitts to it,” Rimando said in a postgame TV interview.
Rimando punched Johnson’s free kick high. Unmarked, Portland substitute Sal Zizzo soared in with a header, that Rimando smacked away with his right hand.
“If we continue to play like that we’re going to win some playoff games,” Rimando said.
Those saves weren’t Rimando’s only key highlight against the top team in the West.
Timber midfielder Kalif Alhassan had a wide-open shot atop the six-yard box in the 65th minute, but his left-footed shot was corralled by Rimando.
In his 200th regular-season appearance for Real Salt Lake, Rimando came up clutch.
“We knew that they had some weapons and the guys were up for the task,” Rimando said. “Once [Portland] got the ball, there were two or three guys around them.”
Heading into Saturday night’s match, RSL and Portland had combined to score 15 goals in three previous competitions. Kreis tabbed veterans Yordany Alvarez and Lovel Palmer to go in the starting XI and it paid off as the two quelled several Portland counterattacks through the evening.
“We were kind of in two minds about whether to go for the full three points or to leave the result as it was,” Kreis said postage.
The result was a 0-0 deadlock, but more importantly, a virtual playoff berth for RSL, its sixth in six seasons.
RSL 0, Portland 0
O Real Salt Lake earns its sixth straight playoff appearance with a scoreless draw at sold-out JELD-WEN Field in Portland on Saturday night.
• The Timbers also qualify for the playoffs with the draw.