PORTLAND, Ore. – Staring down the possibility of two straight losses and down a goal with a few minutes to play, Real Salt Lake responded. In a very big way.
RSL got dramatic late goals from newcomer Johnny Steele and stalwart Kyle Beckerman to pull out a 3-2 win over the Portland Timbers Saturday night at a rainy JELD-WEN Field.
After RSL took the lead in the first half through Alvaro Saborio’s penalty, a second-half brace by Portland’s Darlington Nagbe put the Timbers up 2-1 and appeared to have them well on their way to their second consecutive home win. Until RSL rained on the Timbers’ parade and stormed back through Steele and Beckerman.
The victory puts RSL (3-1-0) back on the winning track after being surprised in a 1-0 loss last week at home to Chivas USA. They jump into a tie for first place in the West.
The result is a devastating one for Portland (1-2-1), who returned home licking their wounds after a dismal 1-0 loss at New England last weekend.
After a scrappy, but back-and-forth open, RSL grabbed the advantage late in the first half. Portland’s Rodney Wallace was whistled for a handball after RSL’s Ned Grabavoy slipped past him just inside the box. The Timbers’ players argued that it was unintentional, but referee Jorge Gonzalez made the call, and Saborio beat goalkeeper Troy Perkins for his first goal of the season.
Nagbe then got Portland back into the match four minutes after the halftime break. For his first goal on the night, he received a perfectly placed pass from Eric Alexander, sidestepped Beckerman and uncorked a stinger past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Then in the 66th minute, Alexander found Nagbe again, this time at the top of the area on the left side. The second-year player, starting in place of the injured Kalif Alhassan, juggled once and volley a bullet between two defenders and past the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Nick Rimando. It was reminiscent of Nagbe’s AT&T Goal of the Year winner from last year, and will surely be a candidate this year.
But the euphoria of the moment was erased just minutes before the final whistle. RSL silenced the sell-out crowd in the 89th minute, when Steele — making his third appearance for RSL since arriving in the offseason — tricked his way through traffic in the area and placed a left-footed shot past Perkins.
And then, three minutes into stoppage time, Beckerman completed the comeback. Fabian Espindola, who was dropped from the starting lineup by coach Jason Kreis, found room on the left side and chipped a cross to the top of the box. Beckerman struck the ball out of the air and straight into the bottom left corner of the net for the shocking game winner.
The Timbers play host to Chivas USA next Saturday, while RSL return home to host Montreal on Wednesday.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.