SALT LAKE CITY — When Real Salt Lake thinks back on its 1-0 loss at Portland on Saturday night, it might lament all the chances it had in the second half.
Like Kelyn Rowe’s powerful shot that was knocked over the bar. Or when Corey Baird got onto a ball inside the box but couldn’t fully control the shot and sent it wide. Or when Damir Kreilach sent a header streaking across frame, but no one was there making a run. Or when Justin Glaad received a headed pass at the doorstep of the goal, but couldn’t find the touch.
Or when, in the dying moments of stoppage time, Albert Rusnák's free kick from just outside the penalty area screamed in on frame and was denied by Portland’s Steve Clark and Aaron Herrera skied a rebound attempt.
But the side from Utah could just as easily point to the chances it gifted Portland, too.
Especially the one that ended up giving the Timbers the three points on Saturday at Providence Park.
In the 16th minute, Diego Valeri fired a shot from distance that beat Nick Rimando and gave Portland the early advantage. It was a masterful strike — flying past a diving Rimando and dipping inside the post.
But what led up to that chance? The same thing that led up to many of the Timbers’ chances in the second half.
Real Salt Lake (13-4-11) tried to build out of the back and giveaway possession in dangerous positions.
The same thing that led to the Valeri goal almost bit RSL again when Brian Fernández intercepted an RSL pass and fired a strong shot in the 29th minute that forced a Rimando save.
They were soft turnovers. And they ended up leading to RSL leaving Oregon without a result — even if RSL did control the match for much of the night.
“I think it's clear we deserve something out of it, at a minimum, a tie and that's just how some games go,” RSL interim coach Freddy Juarez said. ”It's ironic we've been practicing a lot on top of the box combination play finishing for the last three weeks and we created more than enough chances and more than enough good looks, and that’s just how the game sometimes goes.”
RSL was the better team in the second half. They controlled possession and generated chance after chance. In the end, they had nearly 60% of the possession and outshot the Timbers. They just couldn’t find the finishing touch.
The final sequence of the game was almost a reflection of the second half that led up to it. With stoppage time close to expiring, RSL was awarded a free kick from just outside the box. It was the big chance; an opportunity to erase a game of frustration and salvage a tie.
Rusnak sent in a low shot towards the far post that Clark had to go down to the ground to get. The ball, though, bounced into play where Herrera had a chance at the rebound goal. But instead, he pushed it high, leaving Clark walking toward the crowd with his arms raised high.
The opportunity was there. The final touch wasn't.
“When we had it, we were brave, we created some chances,” Juarez said. “Maybe just that final quality or maybe, I don't know the word, patience and we're going to have a better shot — like for example the last shot Aaron had. With a little bit more composure in there and maybe you put it on frame and something else happens.”
RSL didn’t have the patience Saturday and it led to just their second loss in nine matches. It also will leave plenty of scoreboard watching for the team on Sunday.
RSL remains in third place in the Western Conference with 43 points — but are now just three points ahead of the Timbers, who are below the playoff line.
“I mean, at the end of the day, we played well, to be honest,” Kreilach said. “I don't remember one game away that we were so much away that we were so open in the box and we created so many chances. I mean, it's hard to find the words, but we have to put head up and go forward.”
RSL will get a chance to move forward September 11 at home against San Jose.