Real Salt Lake are 90 minutes away from a trip to the MLS Cup after a 4-2 win over the Portland Timbers in the first leg of the Western Conference final. It was a convincing win for RSL, who are now 3-0-2 against the Timbers this season and are in the driver's seat to book their second MLS Cup appearance in five years.
Portland got on the board first after just 14 minutes when Will Johnson hit a blistering free kick that fooled Nick Rimando and found the back of the net. It was a 20-yard bullet that got over the wall and dipped at the far post for the opening tally.
Despite going ahead, the Timbers spent much of the first half on the back foot and in the 35th minute, RSL finally got level. Chris Schuler skied high to meet a corner kick and headed the ball just inside the post to ignite a Salt Lake side that had begun to grow frustrated with their inability to find the net.
RSL's go-ahead goal came on a gift from Futty Danso, who made a terrible error on an attempted backpass. He was under pressure from Robbie Findley and facing his own net when he took a couple awkward touches and made a half-hearted attempt to pass the ball back to Donovan Ricketts. That's all the speedy Findley needed to jump on the ball and slide the ball home for a 2-1 RSL lead.
Findley was back in the center of things after halftime and once again, it was his speed causing the Timbers problems. This time he sprinted down the left and hit a first touch cross to Devon Sandoval, who took a touch to settle before shrugging Jack Jewsbury off and beating Ricketts from four yards.
Real Salt Lake were all over Portland and left the inexperienced Timbers helpless. They had no idea how to stop a RSL team that had their number all season, winning twice and drawing twice in four matches. The Timbers, who are normally outstanding defensively, couldn't defend Salt Lake in the regular season, surrendering nine goals, and it continued on Sunday.
Things got worse for the Timbers in the 82nd minute when Javier Morales flew in with a diving header on a corner kick to make it 4-1. Portland looked all but dead, but Frederic Piquionne handed them a lifeline just before the final whistle.
Jewsbury hit an early cross in from deep on the right, which found Piquionne 15 yards out. Piquionne was being challenged, but he still hit a great header that beat Nick Rimando and brought the Timbers to within two goals. It was still a humbling loss for Portland, but at least they were back in the tie.
RSL may rue the late goal they conceded, but it was still an excellent showing. They now have three wins and two draws in five matches against Portland this season and with a 4-2 lead heading into the second leg, have one foot in the MLS Cup.
Real Salt Lake: Rimando, Beltran, Schuler, Borchers, Wingert (Palmer 33'), Beckerman, Gil, Velasquez, Morales, Findley (Plata 66'), Sandoval.
Goals: Schuler 35', Findley 41', Sandoval 48', Morales 82'.
Portland Timbers: Ricketts, Jewsbury, Danso, Kah, Harrington, Chara, Valeri (Alhassan 56'), W. Johnson, Nagbe, R. Johnson (Valencia 59'), Wallace (Piquionne 75').
Goals: W. Johnson 14', Piquionne 90'.