Here are three takeaways of Real Salt Lake’s 1-0 road loss to the Portland Timbers.
1. A true missed opportunity
RSL has made a habit of playing well enough to win but not making it over the hump. Those games, however, happened early enough in the season that they weren’t much cause for concern.
But the loss to the Timbers felt a little different. So many chances created. So many great saves by Nick Rimando. A tactical change to the starting 11 designed to keep more possession that actually worked.
Just like earlier in the season, however, Real couldn’t take advantage of all the things that went right. But now, with so few games left in the regular season and so few points separating the current Western Conference playoff teams, every missed opportunity is magnified. Every missed goal-scoring opportunity feels like three. Every giveaway feels like five.
But the team is still confident, which leads us to …
2. RSL has clearly improved on the road
Yes, the team missed an opportunity to grab a point on the road in one of the most hostile environments in the league. That RSL performed the way it did despite some of the chances it gifted to Portland, however, is an encouraging sign.
The truth is Real has been an encouraging road team for weeks now. Before this loss against the Timbers, they had not lost in the two previous games away from Rio Tinto Stadium. Those games helped them get to second place, after all.
RSL gave up a goal, but only one. Previously, if Salt Lake gave up a goal early, it would turn into a blowout and lead to questions about whether the team would ever figure out how to simply compete on the road. But not lately, and definitely not against Portland on Saturday.
RSL lost, but the way it competed should strike some appropriate fear into opponents going forward. This Real team is starting to figure it out. Defender Justen Glad put the team’s confidence into succinct words after the game in an interview with KMYU.
"I don’t think this game is going to deter us in any way, shape or form,” Glad said.
3. Kelyn Rowe’s debut provided a glimpse into his potential impact
The midfielder who came from Sporting Kansas City not a month ago has already made it into the starting lineup, taking veteran Kyle Beckerman’s spot for at least one game. He made it very clear that he feels his goal is to help RSL make the playoffs by any means necessary.
Rowe played 78 minutes Saturday, and the majority of them were quite impactful. He managed to get off a shot on goal in the 47th minute, something that doesn’t happen much for RSL’s midfielders.
But his passing accuracy stood out, and that could be the best trait Rowe brings to Real. Of all the passes he made, only seven were unsuccessful.
With Salt Lake seemingly putting more emphasis on building out of the back, passes through the midfield are that much more important. If Rowe can pass that accurately on a consistent basis, he could prove integral to RSL’s style of play and, ultimately, its playoff push.