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SANDY — Real Salt Lake isn't out of the playoff chase yet. But their hopes take a critical hit Saturday night.
Sebastian Blanco had two goals and an assist, and the Portland Timbers pushed Real Salt Lake to the outer fringes of playoff contention with a 4-1 win Saturday night in front of 20,034 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Jeremy Ebobisse and Lucas Melano each added a goal for Portland (14-9-9, 51 points), which handed Salt Lake its first home loss since March 10.
Jefferson Savarino scored the lone goal for RSL (13-12-7, 46 points).
"It was a tough one," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "It wasn't our best game, and they were really efficient in front of goal. It wasn’t our day and they played better.”
RSL coach Mike Petke took the blame for the loss, visibly frustrated as he entered the post-match press area following the loss at a critical juncture of the season.
"Tonight’s on me. I got the tactics wrong," Petke said. "I thought we had a good game plan going in; we didn’t. Now it’s going to be an interesting last two games. I’m going to see what we are made of."
Ebobisse scored his second goal of the season for the Timbers for the early lead, redirecting Sebastian Blanco’s cross and pinging it off the post for the 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute.
The goal came on the Timbers’ third shot of the night, and though they equaled Salt Lake’s shooting output in the first half hour, Portland had two shots on goal to none for RSL.
Savarino equalized just 10 minutes after the halftime break. The Venezuela international took a touch off a give-and-go from Joao Plata, then ripped a screamer that bent over goalkeeper Steve Clark and dipped under the crossbar to tie the match, 1-1 in the 55th minute.
But it was all downhill from there.
"We were sloppy on the ball, and they capitalized on it," RSL defender Justen Glad said. "We’re focused on the next game already, and we’ll be back.
"We’re on to the next game already. We love competition, we love what we do, and we’re going to go out next week and do better."
The rip was Savarino’s seventh goal of the season and first since Sept. 1 against Los Angeles.
Plata nearly bagged the go-ahead goal in the 67th minute, but Clark went low to make the save and keep the match level.
Instead, Blanco scored with 20 minutes remaining, one-timing a rebound off the defense and inside the far post to the delight of the few dozen Timbers fans chanting in the northeast corner of the stadium.
Blanco added another by chipping home a cross from the edge of the six-yard box for a 3-1 advantage in the 77th minute.
Melano added a celebratory strike with two minutes left in regulation for the Timbers.
In a game it desperately needed, RSL didn't show enough to prove it belonged in the playoffs.
"We’re going to see what we are made of now," Petke said. "From me to the coaching staff and down to the players. We still control our own destiny, and it’s going to be an interesting last two games."
Salt Lake’s playoff odds shrunk earlier Saturday when Vancouver knocked off Canadian rival Toronto FC 2-1. Not only did Vancouver’s win eliminate the defending MLS Cup champs from playoff contention, it gave the Whitecaps 43 points on the year, just three behind RSL for the final playoff berth.
RSL (46 points), LA Galaxy (45) and Vancouver (43) are likely fighting for the last playoff spot.
Still, a draw between Sporting Kansas City and the Galaxy keeps RSL above the playoff line for the time being — albeit by the narrow one-point margin.
"The good thing is we’ve responded really well after losses this year," said Beckerman, who will miss the match against New England for yellow-card accumulation. "If we can do that again, then we can keep marching forward. We know it’s going to be tough. All teams are fighting for the playoffs.
"But we’re just going to get back to work, see what we did bad and good, and go out next week and see if we can get a win."
Real Salt Lake wraps up their home regular season Thursday, Oct. 18 against New England. The club ends the 2018 regular season three days later at Portland.