RSL falls to upstart Portland
Portland, Ore. • So long, regular-season unbeaten streak. Adios, road dominance.
Hello, Portland Timbers, and welcome to the MLS.
Three days after Real Salt Lake's CONCACAF Champions League run was thwarted at Rio Tinto Stadium by Monterrey, Salt Lake couldn't match the energy of upstart Portland, losing 1-0 in the first game between the teams.
"It was a really tough week," midfielder Chris Wingert said. "I guess it's just part of being a professional athlete. Got to try to make sure that the lows don't get too low, though."
With Jamison Olave, Robbie Russell and Fabian Espindola at home nursing emotional and physical injuries, RSL struggled to find shots, losing a regular-season game for the first time in nearly a year and keeping itself from joining Dallas and Columbus as the only teams to win or draw 19 consecutive games.
RSL entered the week the holders of three impressive streaks: a 37-game home winning streak, a nine-game road run and the 18 overall. They're all gone now, leaving RSL just with high expectations and a fresh sense of urgency.
"Those are a lot of disappointing things that come to an end," coach Jason Kreis said, "but with the ending of everything comes the beginning of something new."
Salt Lake will try to get back on the winning end next Saturday against Chivas USA at Rio Tinto.
Portland's goal came in the 22nd minute, when forward Kenny Cooper received a cross from Kalif Alhassan and deftly slipped it to the left of Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Cooper celebrated by lifting himself up on the crossbar, dangling there for nearly a minute.
From that moment, RSL, too, seemed desperate merely to hang on.
"I think we were were trying to get forward and create some chances, especially after the goal," Wingert said.
Portland won at home for the third time this season, improving its overall record to 3-3-1. Jeld-Wen Field, a historic baseball stadium renovated into a soccer palace, has proved a formidable stop for visitors. RSL joined Chicago and FC Dallas as victims of the Timbers and their army.
Kreis credited his team for rediscovering in the second half some of the fire that made it successful early in the season.
"I think you do have to feel good about what they did in the second half," he said. "It would have been easy for them to continue on with what happened in the first half, which was a pretty lethargic effort."
After the game, Wingert was asked to assess the mood of his team, which suddenly hasn't won a game in two weeks. His answer might, too, have described Real Salt Lake's inaugural trip to Portland.
"Not great," he said.