RSL thumps Portland 4-2 in first leg of Western Conference final
Sandy • Once the result had long settled in, once Real Salt Lake had dominated in one of the more unforgettable offensive performances in the franchise's postseason history, Javier Morales was asked the question any casual follower familiar with RSL and the Portland Timbers has yet to figure out:
Why is Real Salt Lake just so troublesome to the Timbers, the No. 1 seed out of the Western Conference?
"Maybe you have to ask them," said Morales, RSL's star midfielder who finished the match a goal and two assists. "I think this team likes to play against big teams."
After RSL's 4-2 victory over Portland in the first leg of the Western Conference final Sunday evening at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, it would be hard to find a counter argument.
Despite falling behind early in the 14th, thanks in large part to the right foot of former RSL midfielder and Portland captain Will Johnson, whose 28-yard free kick goal knuckled over the wall and into the side netting, RSL's flowing offensive display was dazzling and it was dizzying.
Dazzling to the RSL fans crammed inside Rio Tinto for the first time ever on a Sunday, and dizzying to a Timbers side that simply fell apart.
The display began in the 35th minute when Morales' corner kick found its way onto the head of centerback Chris Schuler, who tucked a header into the near post, notching a critical equalizer for RSL.
Six minutes later, forward Robbie Findley utilized his trademark speed to pester Portland defender Futty Danso enough into a mistake in the Timber box. Danso lost the ball, and before he knew what was happening, Findley had rounded him and slotted the loose ball by Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts to give RSL a 2-1 lead it took into halftime.
"I just try and cause problems for the defense," Findley said. "That's what I go out there and do and make it easier for my teammates."
He made things easier for rookie forward Devon Sandoval three minutes into the second half. On a play started by Morales' hustle on the defensive side of the ball, the RSL midfielder sprung Findley loose on a quick counter. Findley peeked up and saw Sandoval making a run to the center of the box and whipped in a ball that the rookie trapped and slipped by Ricketts.
"When you have two forwards that are working hard," Sandoval said, "good things happen."
The dazzle continued in the 82nd minute when Morales Â typically RSL's taker of corner kicks made an unmarked run to the near post off a delivery from substitute Joao Plata, spinning the ball by Ricketts with a header and into the near post to give RSL a commanding 4-1 lead.
In the fourth minute of extra time, Portland substitute Frederic Piquionne did pull one back for the deflated Timbers with a header off a cross by Jack Jewsbury and by the outstretched arms of Nick Rimando.
The finish to the match was less than ideal, but RSL, now 3-0-2 against the Timbers in five matches in 2013, is now undoubtedly in the driver's seat heading into the second leg of the series in two weeks at JELD-WEN Field in Portland.
"It's like bookends, right? explained RSL head coach Jason Kreis. "Beginning wasn't good, the end wasn't good the 75 minutes in between were really, really good."
Phenomenal for RSL, now 90 minutes from the MLS Cup, and dizzying for the top-seeded Timbers.
Storylines RSL rolls in conference final
R Javier Morales notches goal, two assists in Real Salt Lake's victory in Leg 1 of the Western Conference final.
• Forwards Robbie Findley, Devon Sandoval each score a goal.
• Former RSL midfielder Will Johnson scored on a free kick in the 14th minute to give Portland an early 1-0 lead.