Real Salt Lake’s Postseason Run Comes To A Crashing Halt With Defeat To Timbers In Western Conference Final
PORTLAND – Real Salt Lake failed to cement a place in the MLS Cup Final following a 2-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers at Providence Park in the Western Conference Final.
Interim Manager Pablo Mastroni opted to alter the starting XI drastically prior to kickoff by swapping Nick Besler for the suspended Everton Luiz. Captain Albert Rusnák returned to the left wing, Kreilach at the center attacking midfield position, Anderson Julio began on the right with Bobby Wood up top. The backline remained the same and David Ochoa started in goal.
Worst Possible Start
Unlike the opening two games of the MLS playoffs, Real Salt Lake started slowly. Portland immediately found an attacking avenue down the right flank disrupting the usually stout defensive shape of Real Salt Lake.
In the 5th minute, Aaron Herrera attempted to clear a loose ball on his own penalty spot but his clearance ricocheted off the legs of a lurking Felipe Mora and the ball trickled past the outstretched glove of Ochoa for the games opening goal.
It was the first goal in the run of play that Real Salt Lake had conceded since the 45th minute of their final regular-season home game when Sebastián Blanco scored Portland’s third and final goal of that 3-1 win.
Fortunately, Real Salt Lake composed themselves and settled into the game.
In the 33rd minute, Herrera found space down the right and played a cross into the area that found Kreilach just inside the six-yard box but his shot went straight into the waiting arms of Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clarke. It was without a doubt the best moment of the first half for Real Salt Lake.
At the half, Portland dominated the stats out-possessing Real Salt Lake 57 to 43 percent while also adding four more shots and two more shots on goal than the visitors.
The Grave Deepens
No changes were made at halftime. However, in the 58th minute, Mastroeni went to his bench and brought on Bobby Wood and Justin Meram for Rubio Rubin and Anderson Julio respectively.
Timbers manager Giovanni Savarese then countered with a move of his own bringing on Polish strike Jarosław Niezgoda for the goalscorer Felipe Mora who looked to be struggling with a hamstring injury.
Then, seconds later Colombian midfielder Santiago Moreno found acres of space just outside the Real Salt Lake box and struck a shot from 25 yards out that bounced off the left post, onto the back of Ochoa, and into the back of the net for Portlands second goal.
Mastroeni’s final roll of the dice came in the 70th minute when he brought on Jonathan Menéndez for Nick Besler.
The shape of Real Salt Lake altered with the substitution but to no avail. Real Salt Lake was unable to generate any attacking threat.
Playoff Run Ends
Then, in the 80th minute, it went from bad to worse when Herrera was shown a second yellow card and Real Salt Lake was down to 10 men.
The final Real Salt Lake chance came when Kreilach got on the end of a Meram cross but his shot went straight down Clarke’s throat, again.
The loss marked the fourth this season to Portland alone. Real Salt Lake lost with a combined score of 14-3 against the Timbers in 2021.
Portland subsequently won the Western Conference and booked a date in the MLS Cup against the winner of Philadelphia Union or NYCFC.