Road games for Real Salt Lake haven’t been as prickly as they have been in recent years. They haven’t even been as prickly as they were earlier in the season. The two games away from Rio Tinto Stadium prior to Saturday’s had resulted in a win and a draw.
But on Saturday against the Portland Timbers, RSL picked up some splinters. Real earned no points for only the third time in 12 games in a 1-0 loss to the Timbers.
The loss, coupled with a win by the San Jose Earthquakes earlier in the day, dropped RSL to third in the Western Conference standings. That position could be further threatened depending on matches played across Major League Soccer on Sunday.
RSL midfielder Damir Kreilach was mostly at a loss for words after the game, saying he couldn’t recall a game where Real had so many chances to score and just couldn’t do so.
“We are frustrated because … we want to defend our second place,” Kreilach told KMYU after the game.
RSL had a prime opportunity to tie the match and grab a point in the seventh minute of stoppage time after it forced a foul just outside the 18-yard box. Midfielder Albert Rusnák’s shot was saved by Timbers keeper Steve Clark, and defender Aaron Herrera’s rebound attempt skied over the goal and out of bounds.
It’s not that RSL had a dearth of scoring opportunities or struggled in possession. In fact, the shots on target were equal for the Timbers and Real. Salt Lake actually outshot Portland 17-15 and had nearly 60% of the possession.
But it was the simple fact that RSL couldn’t put away its chances that made the difference. Portland had a hand in that, with Clark amassing six saves on the evening and the Timbers blocking six shots. Portland also won the clearance battle and tallied many more tackles than Real.
The first half looked uncharacteristic of RSL’s recent run of form. It gave the ball away on several occasions, often cheaply, giving Portland several opportunities at goal. And the Timbers’ only goal came on a sequence just like that.
Portland opened the scoring in the 16th minute off a mistake from RSL. Kelyn Rowe, who earned his first start since joining the team earlier in August, passed into the midfield only to be intercepted by a Timbers defender. The ensuing pass sequence culminated in Andrés Flores laying off to Diego, who rifled a knuckle ball past Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando for a 1-0 lead.
Once the second half started, RSL looked better in possession, particularly in the attacking third. In one sequence, Kreilach headed the ball down across the face of the goal, but Real player came for the secondary opportunity. Forward Corey Baird was in the vicinity, but did not react in time.
Another chance saw defender Aaron Herrera shoot with his weaker left foot and force Timbers keeper Steve Clark into a full stretch for a save.
“We created more than enough chances, more than enough good looks, but we just didn’t score and sometime’s that’s just how the game goes,” interim coach Freddy Juarez told KMYU after the game.