Sandy • It was cold. It was late in the game. The season was on the line.
All fine conditions for Jefferson Savarino and Real Salt Lake.
Savarino buried the game-winning goal in the 87th minute, lifting RSL over the Portland Timbers 2-1 Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. Real advances to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs to face the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday. The Sounders beat FC Dallas 4-3 in extra time earlier in the day.
Despite sub-40 weather and plenty of snow, neither team gave an inch for the first 86 minutes of regular time, each scoring a goal per half. But it was Savarino’s goal that made the difference.
“So happy. So excited,” said goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who tallied three saves and staved off retirement for at least a few more days. “Didn’t want to go to overtime in that weather.”
Savarino received the ball inside the box after Albert Rusnák dummied, took one touch and fired with his right foot. The shot took a slight deflection off of Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark, but it wasn’t nearly enough to prevent the goal.
“To see that ball go in was just an unreal feeling,” defender Aaron Herrera said.
Damir Kreilach made the case that his nickname should switch from “Karate Kreilach” to simply “Playoff Kreilach” with a headed goal in the 28th minute. His goal, assisted by Corey Baird, gave RSL a 1-0 lead after it had created plenty of chances beforehand. Baird had two shots on goal himself in the opening 10 minutes.
“That goal was very important for us,” interim head coach Freddy Juarez said.
But before the players and the crowd could get fully used to the idea that it was full-on snowing, the Timbers equalized. Sebastián Blanco’s corner kick went straight to the leaping Dairon Asprilla — starting for Diego Valeri — for the header and the 1-1 tie.
Juarez said it it was disappointing that RSL gave up a goal so early in the second half because the energy from the first 45 minutes wasn’t there.
“Maybe I have to be a little harsher or critical at halftime because that can’t happen at this stage,” Juarez said. “We had control of the game. But we’ll learn from it.”
While it’s no secret that history hasn’t been kind to Real Salt Lake against the Portland Timbers in he past two years, another version of history has, and it has to do with LAFC.
Last year, RSL lost to LAFC twice in the regular season, and both games were ugly for Real. But when the two teams faced each other in the playoffs, Real got the better of the then-expansion team.
RSL entered Saturday’s game against the Timbers hoping history would repeat itself.
“It is tough to beat a team three times in a row,” Juarez said earlier this week.
Rusnák said Friday that it didn’t matter what the results were against Portland in the regular season, or in what spots both teams finished. So even if RSL arguably came into Saturday in better form, the slate was clean for each team.
“I think that counts for nothing,” Rusnák said of both teams’ finishes. “Whichever place you came in the standings at the end of the regular season, I don’t think it has any affect on the playoffs.”
The reason, captain Kyle Beckerman said, is the quality of teams not just in the airtight Western Conference, but across Major League Soccer.
“I think it’s more because of how even teams are in this league,” Beckerman said. “So each game, there’s such a small sliver of what causes a win and a loss.”