Tom Smart, Deseret News
SANDY — Alvaro Saborio discovered the perfect cure for Real Salt Lake's attacking struggles Saturday night — a hat trick.
The Costa Rican striker scored three goals over a 15-minute span in the second half, putting an emphatic end to RSL's four-match winless streak as it trounced the Portland Timbers 3-0 in front of 16,44 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"It's important. Three goals, I've only done that a few times in my career, I feel very happy about that. I'm going to continue like that and hopefully we can make some more goals," said Saborio, who moved into third place in MLS this season with 10 goals.
The hat trick, which came on goals in the 60th, 62nd and 75th minutes, was the second in the past two months for Saborio, who logged one with Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifying match last month.
Saturday's three-goal effort was just as special for a different reason — it relieved mounting pressure for Real Salt Lake.
"For a regular-season win, it doesn't feel too much better than that. It was mounting a bit after a few losses," said RSL defender Chris Wingert. "We try and stay on an even keel, but it's tough after a few losses, we're competitive guys."
Saborio helped RSL get back on track, trimming San Jose's lead atop the Western Conference standings to just two points ahead of their clash in California next weekend.
His hat trick was the third in RSL history, but only the second in MLS play. Jason Kreis, now the team's head coach, had a hat trick in U.S. Open Cup play in 2006, and Robbie Findley recorded his against Columbus in April of 2009.
Kreis said it was only appropriate that Saborio shook Real Salt Lake's scoring funk.
"He's a guy for me that there's been a lot of injustices lately; the goals that have been called back against him that he scores," said Kreis.
Despite the frustration of being held scoreless against Seattle on Wednesday — its second straight shutout — RSL came out with an attacking flare in the first half against a Portland team that hadn't won a road game all season. Kreis, however, said the collective angst from the players in the final third was still very much there.
Following a 0-0 first half, Kreis stressed the importance of trying to relax around goal.
Saborio was up to the challenge, elevating in the 60th minute and heading home a delicate chip in the box from Kyle Beckerman for the 1-0 lead.
"First one was really special, the way he got up and headed it across the whole face of goal and hits the post and goes in," said Kreis.
The strike halted RSL's 251-minute goal-less drought dating back to Javier Morales' 79th-minute free kick against San Jose on June 23.
Saborio's second goal two minutes later was a much simpler finish after Chris Wingert played a wonderful ball in the box from the left sideline. With Portland's backline pushed up high, Wingert whipped a ball into the penalty area, which bounced once before Saborio headed it past charging keeper Troy Perkins.
Down 2-0, things started to get chippy with Portland resorting to the "hack-a-Javy" strategy of fouling Morales perhaps excessively. Morales was fouled five times, and in the 64th minute following a foul on Lovell Palmer, Jamison Olave said enough is enough and went in to try and send a message to Palmer. A small shoving match broke out, but only yellow cards were handed out.
Kreis admitted he was very pleased to see RSL stand up for Morales.
Ten minutes after the skirmish, Saborio put the finishing touches on the victory with a penalty kick in the 75th minute.
Realistically, it should've been another header goal, but Portland's Diego Chara intentionally stopped a goal-bound shot by Saborio with his hand. He was quickly red carded, and Saborio stepped up and buried the penalty.
RSL now has a week to rest before a huge top-of-the-table clash at San Jose next Saturday.
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