The Portland Timbers welcomed the Real Salt Lake squad to Jeld-Wen field Saturday for a meeting between the driving forces of the MLS Western Conference.
The Timbers are the only team in the Western Conference to have locked up a playoff bid, and it is the first time they have advanced to the MLS playoffs.
“It is a big thing for this club. It’s a milestone that we’re happy about,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “But it’s not just about being in the playoffs. There’s still a lot of work to be done and we want to be a club that’s not just in the playoffs, but making a run to win it.”
Although the Timbers have reached a huge milestone, Saturday’s match held immense weight for the team. The Supporter Shield Race and first place in the Western Conference are still on the line.
Star center midfielder Diego Valeri played in the starting lineup, even while continuing to deal with a groin injury. Forward
Maximiliano Urrati was not able to suit up for the match after a hamstring injury from last week’s win over the Seattle Sounders. The unofficial word is that the Timbers are saving him for the playoffs.
The game started with a bang as fireworks erupted over the ecstatic 20,674 fans in attendance.
The first half of play ended with a draw, but the game was a back-and-forth grudge match between two very skilled teams. The Timbers and Real Salt Lake held each other to zero shots on goal in the first half—a testament to the back line play of both teams.
Hoping for the spark necessary to break through the RSL defense, Porter substituted in Rodney Wallace in the 63rd minute in place of Valeri. The substitution nearly paid off instantly, but RSL goalie Nick Rimando made a remarkable save to keep the score knotted at zero all.
US Open Cup hero Frederic Piquionne was substituted in place of forward Jose Valencia, who sustained an injury and required stitches. The 87th minute also saw play from fan favorite Sal Zizzo, whom fans hoped could break down the RSL squad.
In the fourth minute of extra time, the Timbers were awarded a free kick. Timbers captain Will Johnson lined up at the top of the RSL box and blasted a high shot just under the crossbar, but Rimando was able to block it away. Zizzo caught the rebound and headed a shot on goal, but again Rimando made a huge game-saving block. Shortly after, the final second clicked off the clock and the match was recorded as a draw.
“We’re disappointed anytime we don’t win. That’s always the goal,” Porter said. “[RSL] looked pretty happy after the game with a draw and our guys were kind of disappointed.“
The Timbers are now two points behind the New York Red Bulls in the Supporter Shield Race with three points left on the board.
The Timbers’ last game of the regular season will be at the Home Depot Center against Chivas USA. The match is scheduled for Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast locally on Root Sports. The official viewing party will be held at the Rose and Thistle Public House.