RSL beats Portland, jumps back into Western Conference playoff race

(Michael Mangum | Special to the Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Jefferson Savarino (7) flies to the pitch in front of Portland Timbers defender Roy Miller (7) during their MLS match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT on Saturday, September 16, 2017.

Sandy • Real Salt Lake jumped the red line with a 2-1 win over Portland at Rio Tinto Saturday.

RSL (11-14-5, 38 points), which has been fighting to keep its playoff hopes alive for weeks, slid into the last Western Conference playoff spot with Saturday’s win. Portland (12-10-8, 44 points) remained in second place.

“I’m just the bozo who’s screaming on the sideline and throughout the week who’s trying to get them to listen to me,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “They have to accept what I’m saying, take it upon themselves to apply it to practice and a game on the weekend and get it done, and once the whistle blows I have no control. So the credit is to the players for the last couple of months and the win tonight and to be in the position they’re in right now.”

Jefferson Savarino scored the winning goal in the 61st minute with a perfectly placed left-footed shot. RSL got the ball to his feet by swinging it from the far side of the field, from Joao Plata, to Yura Movsisyan, to Albert Rusnák, to Savarino.

Savarino took a touch to his left to get around a defender and buried a shot in the upper far corner of the net.

RSL center back Justen Glad credited “that spark that Savarino provided” with getting the defense on track after a shaky beginning to the second half.

“Wonderful strike,” Glad said. “And that’s big-time when you have a player who can do that and kind of get you out of that situation. I think we had them, I think we would have broken them down, but that bit of flare helped a lot and made the defense’s job a lot easier.”

The Timbers failed to collect any points toward their fight for a high playoff seed, but they at least had a new MLS record to celebrate.

Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri’s equalizer in the 47th minute set a MLS record for most consecutive games with a goal (eight). Valeri netted the record-breaker off a cross by Dairon Asprilla. From the right wing Asprilla sent the ball across the goal, and Valeri finished it with a diving header.

RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando saved two other shots on goal by Valeri: a one-timer off a cross in the 37th minute and a free kick in the 85th minute.

Rusnák opened the scoring for RSL early, combining with Luis Silva to score a goal in the 14th minute.

Silva collected a pass that deflected off of Portland midfielder Darlington Nagbe and tapped it forward to hit Rusnák in stride.

Rusnák darted down the center of the field, taking two dribbles outside the box before winding up to shoot from 30 yards out. His line drive split Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella’s hands as he dove to his right. The ball hit the upper left-hand corner of the net to give RSL the 1-0 lead.

Rusnák scooped the ball up from inside the goal and tucked it under his shirt. He ran toward the sideline pretending to suck his thumb as a tribute to the baby he and his longtime girlfriend have on the way.

Storylines<br>• RSL moved into sixth place in the Western Conference standings. <br>•Portland midfielder Diego Valeri sets a MLS record of eight consecutive matches with a goal. <br>• Jefferson Savarino scores the left-footed game-winner.