Kenny Cooper struck in the 23rd minute and the Portland Timbers hung on for the rest of the match, sending Real Salt Lake to their first defeat of the MLS season by the score of 1-0. The win kept Portland perfect at home in its first MLS season.
RSL’s patchwork lineup had trouble linking possession in the early going, and as a result Portland dominated the first 15 minutes. However, they lacked sharpness in the final third and couldn’t threaten the Salt Lake goal. Diego Chara had a decent look fly hopelessly wide, and Real’s Chris Schuler made an excellent tackle to defuse an excellent chance that was developing for Jorge Perlaza.
The home side kept up the pressure, and in the 23rd minute they put Real Salt Lake behind for the first time this season. A quick restart after a free kick caught the right side of Real’s defense napping, and Kalif Alhassan was sprung up the wing. He whipped a pinpoint cross to the top of the six-yard box where Cooper was waiting for the easy side-foot tap-in to put the Timbers up 1-0.
Salt Lake tried to respond, and they had their first good chance of the match in the 30th minute. Javier Morales received a nice pass from Kyle Beckerman on the right flank and dribbled into the penalty area, firing a shot on frame from a thin angle. Goalkeeper Troy Perkins made a fine diving save, but the rebound spilled into the area. Fortunately for Portland, no RSL players were there to hammer in the rebound and eventually a clearance was made.
In the 41st minute, Jack Jewsbury came close to doubling the lead for Portland and he fired a laser from 25 yards straight away. His shot was headed for the left post, but Nick Rimando extended himself to make a great save. Just minutes later, Real responded through Chris Wingert and Perkins was forced into a save of his own.
Portland had one last good chance before the half, this time Alhassan with a curling shot from the left side that had a chance at tucking inside the far post. Again Rimando made a spectacular save to keep the Salt Lake deficit at 1-0.
After a lackluster first half, RSL head coach Jason Kreis made wholesale changes at halftime by taking out his reserve midfielders and replacing them with regulars. The result was far more possession by the visitors in the first 15 minutes of the second half, but no real chances to speak of until the 69th minute. Morales played a ball to the overlapping Wingert who played a low cross to Alvaro Saborio. Saborio slid and redirected Wingert’s pass, but pushed it just wide of the near post.
The possession continued to stay almost exclusively with Real, as Portland defended their lead with more and more numbers as the match went on. But its possession lacked purpose and they did little to test Perkins through the 80th minute.
After chasing the match for most of the night, RSL gradually lost its steam over the last few minutes as Portland dug in for the final few tense minutes, which passed without incident until the final whistle.
With tonight’s match in the books, Portland will now look forward to continuing their homestand as they host the Philadelphia Union next Friday. Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake will also do some entertaining next week as they await their first meeting of the year with Chivas USA.
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