Late RSL goal eliminates Timbers
Half of an effort wasn't enough for the Portland Timbers to survive on Saturday as their season ended with a 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs.
Jefferson Savarino's goal in the 87th minute lifted RSL to the win, which sends the Utah side to Seattle for a Wednesday Western Conference semifinal match.
"It's unfortunate. We didn't want to finish at this stage because we really believe in ourselves. But at the end you have to do it on the field," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said.
No shows in the first half, the Timbers were on the front foot for much of the second half. Dairon Asprilla's header from a corner kick tied the score 1-1 in the 47th minute and Portland generated a series of dangerous chances to take a lead — including shots from Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri that forced tough saves from goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
"We completely dominated the second half and I think generated enough chances to maybe put this game away," Savarese said. "At the end they had one good chance and they took advantage."
Savarino found himself alone on the right side of the penalty area when a Joao Plata pass across the top of the 18-yard box deflected to him off a sliding clearance attempt by Portland's Bill Tuiloma. Savarino took his shot well, putting a low ball past Steve Clark inside the near post.
Ultimately, the Timbers paid for a dreadful first half.
RSL led 1-0 at the break on a wintry night in Sandy, Utah, but it could have been more one sided as the home team outshot Portland 9-0 and forced Clark to come up big a few times. The first-half goal was scored by Damir Kreilach in the 28th minute, a wide-open header when Corey Baird was allowed to loft an easy ball into the 8-yard box as Baird slipped between center backs Tuiloma and Larrys Mabiala.
Playing with a wind behind them, the Timbers came out with a new energy after halftime and got the equalizer as Asprilla made a run to meet a Blanco corner kick.
Valeri, who missed the previous two games with a calf injury, came on in the 63rd minute. He replaced Jeremy Ebobisse, who felt some muscle tightness.
In the next 10 minutes, Portland nearly scored four times.
First Blanco unleashed a 25-yard shot that was headed for the upper right corner until Rimando tapped it over the bar in full stretch.
Valeri forced a save from Rimando with a 23-yard strike in the 68th minute. Three minutes later, a ball into the box delivered by right back Jorge Moreira forced Rimando to react awkwardly.
In the 73rd minute, a close-range bicycle try by Blanco somehow spun outside the post.
Finally, in the 85th minute, an 18-yard strike from Valeri beat Rimando but curled inches wide.
Thus ended a down and up season for the Timbers, who started the season in a snowstorm at Colorado and ended it on a snowy night in Utah. They qualified for the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, but entered the postseason with Valeri at less than full health and with high-priced striker Brian Fernandez in the MLS behavioral health program.
Clark finished with five saves, keeping the wobbly and flat-footed Timbers in the match during the first half.
"It was a game of two halves. We were very, very good the second half. We were terrible the first half," Savarese said.
Ebobisse said he and his teammates never got comfortable playing with cold wind in their faces throughout the first half.
"We were too frantic on the ball, all of us, and unable to consistently string multiple passes in the opposition half," Ebobisse said.
The result was a sour ending to a season that started with 12 road games, saw Fernandez's May arrival buoy the team, then saw Portland struggle to perform up to its standards during an extended home stand.
"It's a little bit sour," Ebobisse said. It's going to stick with us, knowing that we had a group that has beaten LAFC away, was able to beat any team on the road, to come up short in this game hurts."
• Seattle won a wild 4-3 match with FC Dallas Saturday afternoon. Jordan Morris scored three goals, including the winner in overtime. The Sounders twice led by two goals in the game.
• In the Eastern Conference, Toronto scored four goals in overtime to beat visiting D.C. United 5-1 and Atlanta United slipped past New England 1-0.
• Sunday's games feature the New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia (noon, FS1) and the LA Galaxy at Minnesota United (5:30 p.m., ESPN).
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