Sandy • Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers were like two strangers on a blind date in 2018. They had never met in person, but they had a good idea what each other was about because information can be easily found online or on video.
RSL’s profile featured plenty of positives — seven wins or ties in its last nine games and a Western Conference-leading home record — but some red flags as well, namely a draw against Minnesota United in its most recent home game. Portland’s profile was similar.
On paper, RSL and Portland seemed like a match made in soccer heaven. Two compatible teams that, when put together, make for a hotly contested game.
But Portland decided it wanted to see other soccer teams, dispatching RSL 4-1 on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“Tonight’s on me,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “Got the tactics wrong. I thought we had a good game plan going in. We didn’t.”
After a getting-to-know-you first half hour, the Timbers made the first move in the 33rd minute when forward Jeremy Ebobisse slid with an outstretched left leg and booted in a goal off Blanco’s pass for a 1-0 lead.
Even conceding a goal, RSL was still within striking distance after the first half. RSL won a corner kick in the 52nd minute, which resulted in a two-man sequence between Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata. Savarino touched it to Plata, who returned it right to Savarino’s right foot for a goal and a 1-1 tie.
But the last 20 minutes spelled doom for RSL. Sebastián Blanco regained the lead for Portland and gave the Timbers a 2-1 lead in the 70th minute. Blanco changed Portland’s number from 2 to 3 just a few minutes later, scoring after Diego Valeri and Ebobisse assisted Blanco’s strike in the 73rd minute for a 3-1 Timbers lead.
“They got their chances and they finished them,” RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said of Portland.
Timbers substitute Lucas Melano poured salt in RSL’s already-gaping wound in the 88th minute when he chipped a ball over RSL keeper Nick Rimando and scored a left-footed goal in front an open net.
“I think we did it to ourselves,” Justen Glad said. “I think we gave up the ball up too cheaply and that kind of kills momentum for our team.”
In the second half, the Timbers turned on the jets. In the second 45 minutes alone, Portland shot more times (10) than RSL did the entire game (nine).
“What did I see the last 20 minutes?” Petke asked rhetorically when responding to a question. “We lost.”
With the LA Galaxy tying Sporting Kansas City earlier in the evening, RSL is still in sixth place and one point ahead of the Galaxy in the Western Conference standings.
“Obviously it’s nice being above the playoff line,” Glad said. “But it would have been nicer to be three points higher and kind of more out of reach. But we’ll take the next two games, handle our business and hopefully that won’t matter where (other teams) are at.”
RSL has two games left on its schedule: New England at home and Portland on the road.
“Now it’s going to be an interesting last two games,” Petke said. “We’re going to see what we’re made of.”
RSL signs academy player
The team announced at halftime that it signed Julian Vasquez, who was part of the RSL Academy. Vasquez, 17, marks the 16th homegrown player to sign with RSL.
“Real Salt Lake has been a huge part of my life because I’d always go to the games and supporting the team,” Vazquez said in a news release. “I know RSL utilizes its youth and trusts in its system. I know I’m going to have to prove myself and I’m really excited about that. To be a part of the first team now is an honor to me and my family.”
Sunday Stephen and Beckerman both received yellow cards, which means they will be suspended for RSL’s next game as a result. … Loss snapped RSL’s 14-game streak of not losing at home. … Portland snapped a six-game road losing streak to RSL.