Real Salt Lake secured a 2 – 1 win against Portland at home on Saturday evening. The win was important in several ways.
As ReAL winds down the final stretch of the MLS season they have been in serious need of finding their form and more potency in the attack.
The main question heading into the match was how would RSL score without injured forward Alvaro Saborio, who has been responsible for 10 of RSL’s last 17 goals in all competitions.
ReAL’s play throughout most of the match gives a new breath of encouraging hope as they contend for playoff seeding and ultimately for the MLS Cup. The Claret-and-Cobalt dominated the majority of the first half through sustained possession of the ball and sustained pressure around the Portland goal, committing additional numbers to the attack.
The offensive brilliance was reminiscent of the dominating performances we saw from RSL in the 2010 MLS season.
We witnessed very important performances from many players on Saturday in the absence of leading goal scorer Alvaro Saborio. Coach Kreis commented in his post-game presser “I think it was important that we got goals from Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales. … They were big-time plays from big-time players.”
Espindola and Morales both scored brilliant goals in the first off coming from set pieces just outside the penalty area. Both players had not scored since June (Espindola June 16th and Morales June 23rd). The goals from players who have not contributed to the score sheet in 3 months of play are a heartening sign progress.
Not only were the performances from the Argentine duo essential to the match’s outcome, but we also saw influential performances from Will Johnson, Ned Grabavoy and Paulo Jr. Each of these players consistently pressed the Portland area, contributed to the attack and all had some decent opportunities to add to the score line.
The forward pairing of Espindola and Paulo brought a different dynamic to the RSL attack that we don’t see when pairing Espindola with a target forward like Saborio. Both forwards like to run straight at the defense, displaying impressive speed and ball handling skills to help disrupt the defense and get behind them. We saw both forwards do just this several times throughout the match and lash shots on goal in open play. Unfortunately neither was able to get their shots past the Portland net minder, Joseph Bendik, who turned in several impressive saves to keep his side in the match.
This type of forward pairing could play an important role through the rest of the MLS season and postseason as RSL may find the need to mix up their traditional pairing if our attack becomes stagnant.
The passing and triangulation by RSL in the Portland penalty area to create shots was also an inspiring display.
With Saturday’s victory RSL has clinched a playoff ticket to the MLS postseason. This will be RSL’s 5th straight visit to the MLS playoffs, an accomplishment only a few MLS clubs have reached.
Having collected these three crucial points at home, ReAL has moved into second place in the Western Conference due to Seattle’s loss to San Jose. Unfortunately, the LA Galaxy pulled off a convincing win over Toronto on Saturday as well and are now tied with RSL for that second place spot. LA holds the tiebreaker by virtue of goal differential.
I believe that the match helps set the tone for RSL’s run at playoff seeding with a positive result, something that will be much needed as they go on the road for the next three straight weeks with difficult road matches against fellow playoff contenders LA and Seattle.
The match however was not an entirely convincing win. Likely due to their long 14 hour trip back from Panama and CCL play on Wednesday, RSL seemed to run out of gas in the second half and fell back into defensive formation, allowing Portland the opportunity to attack and cut the lead in half through a brilliant Bright Dike header.
While Portland remains winless this MLS season on the road, they did turn in a more impressive performance than their usual road form and are showing signs of improvement as a squad.
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando came up with three spectacular saves to ensure the victory for his side.
View the match highlights
Despite the apparent fatigue the RSL side did muster several dangerous attacks on the Portland goal in the second half and nearly converted on multiple occasions.
To secure their position in the top three of the conference it will be necessary for RSL to turn in more complete 90 minute performances especially at places like Seattle and LA.
The victory does give RSL several positive and promising points to build upon, namely:
- More consistent pressure and possession in the attack
- Impressive passing and triangulation in the opponents area
- More numbers committing to and being involved in the attack
- More shots on goal from additional players on the pitch
- Goals being scored by other players, not just Sabo
Over the next month and a half we will see some engaging fixtures as RSL battles towards the MLS Cup and looks to emerge from the group stage of the CCL. If they continue to improve in their midfield and offensive form while maintaining their defensive dominance they should be successful in both competitions!