SANDY, Utah (Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012) – Real Salt Lake (15-11-4, 49 points, West #2) clinched its fifth consecutive playoff berth on Saturday night, riding first half goals from FWFabían Espíndola and MF Javier Morales 20 minutes apart – both on set pieces – to defeat Portland Timbers FC (7-15-7, 28 points, West #8) by a 2-1 scoreline before yet another sellout crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Despite the absence of leading scorer Alvaro Saborio due to a shoulder injury suffered in Tuesday’s 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League victory in Panama City against Tauro FC, Real Salt Lake started the game brightly, controlling possession and searching for a cutting edge play in Portland’s defensive third. The Claret-and-Cobalt found one in the 14th minute, when Espíndola found the back of the net for the first time since June 16 – a span of 14 games in all competitions – to give Jason Kreis’ team a 1-0 lead.
The play began when Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury fouled Morales just outside the Portland box to give RSL a dangerous free kick. Morales took the first touch on the set piece, delicately tapping a ball with the bottom of his boot toward the middle that Espíndola slammed through the wall and inside Portland’s left post.
The Timbers responded immediately to Espíndola’s goal, creating a half-chance on the counter in the 18th minute before being robbed of an equalizer by RSL GK Nick Rimando in the 21st minute. Timbers MF Rodney Wallace had the chance, heading a corner kick on frame that Rimando miraculously parried away, exhibiting his world-class, cat-like reflexes.
Morales doubled RSL’s lead in the 36th minute, scoring a fantastic free-kick goal – his first since June 23 – to put the Utah side up 2-0. The play began with a foul on Morales 24 yards out on the left flank. Morales again converted the set piece, curling a beautiful right-footed shot past Portland GK Joseph Bendik and into the top left corner. Morales’ last goal came on a similar free kick on June 23 in a 1-2 loss against San Jose, a span of 11 games.
With RSL scoring twice in the first half for the first time since June 20 at home against Los Angeles – and scoring multiple goals in a half for just the third time since that mid-June date – the teams entered halftime with RSL up 2-0. The Timbers made an offensive change at the break, bringing on FW Bright Dike for DF Steven Smith.
The second stanza began rather slowly, with neither side able to create anything of note until RSL had a good look in the 57th. Espíndola had the chance; collecting a ball at the top of the box and fantastically freeing himself in the Timbers box before firing his shot off a Portland player and out for a corner kick.
RSL FW Paulo Junior – starting in place of Saborio – had a golden chance in the 60th minute. The Brazilian attacker collected a through ball on the right side of the box after a 1-2 with Morales, cutting toward goal before firing a ball across the face of goal and out of play.
Portland made RSL pay for its missed opportunities in the 61st minute, pulling a goal back through Dike. The big striker lost RSL DF Jamison Olave in the box, smartly heading MF Sal Zizzo’s spectacular cross from the right wing inside the far post from the left side of the box.
RSL had yet another good look in the 64th minute, but again failed to capitalize. Paulo Junior stripped a Timbers player of the ball in a dangerous area, quickly taking a touch before playing Espíndola through for a 1-v-1 with Bendik. The Argentine attacker couldn’t take advantage though, hitting his shot directly at the onrushing ‘keeper, who deflected the ball out of danger.
In the waning moments, RSL again rode the expertise of GK Rimando, who parried a Frank Songo’o blast over the bar and saw another Dike header slam off the woodwork en route to the victory, which assured RSL of postseason participation for a fifth consecutive year, the longest active streak in Major League Soccer and only the seventh streak of 5 or more in the league post-shootout era (2000 – present).
Real Salt Lake Match Notes – RSL 2 : 1 POR
· Real Salt Lake had gone 31 games in all competitions since the last time both of its Argentine veterans – MFJavier Morales and FW Fabian Espindola – scored in the same game, dating back to the March 10 opener at Los Angeles, a game it won 3-1;
· Tonight’s win secured a third consecutive 15-win season for RSL, making the Utah side only the second club in the 17-season history of MLS to do so – joining the 2005-07 D.C. United teams … RSL needs just one point in its final four regular-season games to join those same DCU sides as the second club with three consecutive 50-point seasons … This year’s Los Angeles Galaxy can join the 15-win club for a 3rd straight year with a home win tonight against Toronto FC, the team that knocked it out of CONCACAF Champions League at the quarterfinal stage this March;
· Should RSL earn one win or more in its final four MLS games this year, it would set a new team high, as both the 2010 (15-4-11, 56 points, West #2) and 2011 (15-11-8, 53 points, West #3) sides topped out at 15 wins in each campaign;
· Tonight’s standing-room only crowd of 20,524 at Rio Tinto Stadium marked RSL’sfourth consecutive sellout across all competitions – it had never before had more than two in-a-row – and the club’s seventh sellout in its last 10 games, dating back to June 20 vs. LA … The capacity crowd is RSL’s team-record ninth of the season, breaking the team-record of six, set last year;
· RSL DFJamison Olave went the full 90 minutes Saturday, in his first MLS match since July 21 in a 2-0 home win against Colorado … Olave injured his hamstring on July 31 in CONCACAF Champions League play at Herediano (Costa Rica), and did not appear until Tuesday’s 1-0 win at Tauro FC (Panama);
· Also returning for RSL was captainKyle Beckerman, who missed the team’s last MLS match (an 0-1 loss at Houston on July 7) due to U.S. National Team World Cup Qualifying, and Tuesday’s 1-0 win at Tauro FC due to CCL suspension (red card August 21 v Tauro);
· The goals scored byJavier Morales (1,079 minutes) and Fabian Espindola (889 minutes) broke extended droughts for RSL’s second- and fourth-leading all-time goalscorers, as Morales (4th, now with 20 MLS goals) and Espindola (2nd, now with 33 goals) found back of net with RSL’s all-time Golden Boot man Alvaro Saborio (37 MLS goals) sidelined;
· Each of RSL’s next three games take place away from home, against teams RSL has already defeated on the road this year… Next Saturday, RSL travels to the first of back-to-back games at The Home Depot Center, facing expansion brethren Chivas USA, whom RSL defeated 3-0 back on June 16 … A week later, RSL returns to the venue to take on rival Los Angeles Galaxy, whom RSL downed 3-1 back on March 10 … On October 17, RSL travels to Seattle’s Century Link Field, where it won 1-0 back on May 12;
· Rio Tinto Stadium hosts RSL’s final two games of the season, first the fourth and final CONCACAF Champions League group game in a winner-take-all match against Costa Rican champion Herediano on Tuesday, October 23 … Kickoff for the nationally-televised CCL match is set for 8:00 p.m. MT … That Saturday, October 27, RSL hosts Vancouver Whitecaps FC in “Fan Appreciation Night” – a game that could have MLS playoff seeding implications for both teams, kicking off at 7:00 p.m. MT;
· The 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs begin four days later, with the single-elimination Conference “knockout” games, the No. 5 seed in each of the Western and Eastern Conferences traveling to play at the No. 4 seeds’ homes … The following weekend, Nov. 3 and 4, the knockout winners host the No. 1 seed in the first leg of each Conference Semifinal series, while the No. 3 seed opens at home against the No. 2 seed (as RSL did against Seattle in the same stage a year ago) … With the second leg of each 180-minute, aggregate goal series on Nov. 6 and 7, the Conference Championships – now a two-leg series for the first time in MLS’ 17-year history – kick off on Nov. 10/11, finishing on Nov. 17/18, with the winners advancing to MLS Cup – at the home of the highest remaining regular-season finisher – on Saturday, December 1;
REAL SALT LAKE 2 : 1 PORTLAND TIMBERS FC
SATURDAY, SEPT. 22, 2012
RIO TINTO STADIUM
Goals by Period 1 2 F
Real Salt Lake 2 0 2
Portland Timbers 0
Scoring Summary: RSL– Fabían Espíndola (Javier Morales) – 14’
RSL– Javier Morales – 36’
POR– Bright Dike (Sal Zizzo) – 61’
Misconduct Summary: RSL– Jamison Olave (tackle from behind) – 80’
Real Salt Lake (4-1-2-1-2) – Nick Rimando; Chris Wingert, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran; Kyle Beckerman (c); Ned Grabavoy, Will Johnson; Javier Morales (Luis Gil 92+’); Paulo Jr. (Emiliano Bonfigli, 67’), Fabían Espíndola (Yordany Alvarez 83’)
Substitutes Not Used: Kyle Reynish (GK), Chris Schuler, Kenny Mansally, Jonny Steele, Jonny Steele
Portland Timbers (4-5-1) – Joseph Bendik; Steven Smith (Bright Dike, 46’), Mamadou Danso, David Horst, Kosuke Kimura (Eric Alexander, 67’); Franck Songo’o (Khalif Alhassan 82), Rodney Wallace, Jack Jewsbury, Sal Zizzo; Darlington Nagbe, Danny Mwanga
Substitutes Not Used: Scott Angevine (GK), Eric Brunner, Mamadou Danso, Mike Fucito
Referee: Kevin Stott
Referee's Assistants: Corey Parker, Jason Cullum
4th Official: Allen Chapman
Time of Game:1:54
Weather: Sunny and 86 degrees