SANDY — Feezing temperatures, a strong howling wind, relentless rain (heck, there was even a second-half snowstorm). By all accounts, it was a pretty awful night to be outside.
Don’t tell the 17,452 fans that filled Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday. They couldn’t have been happier to brave the conditions.
In the 87th minute, Jefferson Savarino's snuck by the outstretched hand of Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark and into the back of the net to give Real Salt Lake a 2-1 win over the Timbers in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
RSL will move on to play Seattle on Wednesday in the Western Conference semifinals.
S A V A !! pic.twitter.com/4s2ee3wTc1— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) October 20, 2019
“The guys running onto the field and celebrating, it speaks for itself,” RSL interim coach Freddy Juarez said. "That's how we all felt."
The late heroics almost came as a surprise, though.
After a first half where RSL controlled the ball, created chances and took the lead off a Damir Kreilach headed in the 28th minute, the home club didn’t look the same after halftime.
In fact, it was the Timbers that had all the momentum.
Portland equalized moments into the second half, as Dairon Asprilla headed in a goal off a corner kick to level the score at one. From there, it was Portland being the aggressor.
After Portland had scored the early second-half equalizer, a familiar song began to echo through the grounds coming from the Timbers’ supporter second high in the northeast corner of the stadium.
“A beautiful sight. We're happy tonight. Walking in a winter wonderland.”
Snow was falling and Portland was looking dangerous in the final third — good thing RSL had Nick Rimando.
In quick succession, Rimando, who may have been playing his final home game, made one-handed diving save, then dove to his right to stop a low shot and then punched another away to keep Portland from taking the lead.
‘We couldn't quite get to the ball,” Juarez said. “We couldn't quite find the loose ball. It was bouncing everywhere and would somehow end up to their players and Nick — what can I say about Nick? — I mean, he's been doing that here for 13 years here in that in this club. The guy's awesome. He pulled one out on his left side that was, I mean, I had to clap my hands.”
But RSL’s late-goal likely had him clapping a little more.
Joao Plata sent the long cross into the edge of the box where multiple RSL players were charging. Albert Rusnak was the first one to run on the ball, but instead of trying his luck with a shot, he dummied the ball and allowed it to roll to Savarino.
“Albert, super unselfish, senses it. Lets it go running through — just great teamwork there,” Juarez said.
The dummy freed up Savarino to have clear shot at goal. He didn’t waste it. Clark was able to get a hand onto the ball but it still had enough to roll in for the game-winner.
“You're expecting him to score but you never know what could happen,” Aaron Herrera said. “So to see that was just an unreal feeling and just extremely happy for everyone.”
It set off a massive celebration with RSL players forming a human pile on the field. They knew what the moment meant. Their season isn’t done yet.
“We've sort of figured out how to grind out results,” Hererra said. “It's not always gonna be a pretty game and we're not always going to dominate for 90 minutes. I felt we were dominant in the first 45 (minutes). Obviously, the second half, they came out flying, they were pushing us back and had several chances. But I think this team is strong mentally and we sort of weathered the storm.”
Both figuratively and literally.