PORTLAND, Ore. — Top-of-the-table Real Salt Lake emerged from a cauldron of noise with a gigantic point.
RSL battled and battled with third-place Portland inside raucous Jeld-Wen Field, and the club ultimately emerged with a gutsy 3-3 draw Wednesday night.
"Had we walked out of here with a loss, I think the guys would have worked harder than that and deserved more," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "So, I'm really, really pleased that we scored that late goal and have them hold on to maintain the draw."
Salt Lake fell behind 1-0 midway through the first half before battling back to take a 2-1 lead into halftime via goals by Nat Borchers and Javier Morales.
Portland star midfielder Diego Valeri equalized for the Timbers in the 52nd minute, and RSL midfielder Yordany Alvarez was then shown a straight red in the 79th minute.
RSL showed its meddle, however, over the final 11 minutes of regulation plus stoppage time to get out of the City of Roses with a big result.
Portland midfielder Kalif Alhassan appeared to lift Portland to the win after scoring in the 86th minute. However — in extremely unlikely fashion — RSL reserve Cole Grossman found the back of the net three minutes into stoppage time to give the visitors a huge point.
From the right side, RSL midfielder Luis Gil sent the ball toward goal, and it fell into the path of Grossman, whose finish sneaked just inside the right post.
Grossman's first goal for the club set off scenes of celebration among RSL's players and coaches — and left Portland shell-shocked.
“It was a fantastic effort by Cole, by everyone to fight throughout that on this field, on this surface, with a good team like that," said defender Tony Beltran. "At times, it's not going to be pretty. We knew it was just going to be a battle today, so I think the fact that we showed that heart, that effort — that was a big boost going forward.”
Grossman's goal was a crazy end to a match that had a little bit of everything.
After the way the first half hour went — Portland’s Rodney Wallace redirected Valeri’s free kick past RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella to open the scoring in the 24th minute, and the Timbers carved out other quality scoring chances — it seemed as if short-handed RSL was heading toward its second road defeat in four days.
Things suddenly changed, however, thanks to Salt Lake defender Borchers in the 38th minute.
Morales did very well to beat Valeri near the right corner flag in Portland’s end, and he whipped a ball toward the far post. Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts saved Alvarez’s snap header, but Borchers was positioned to sweep home the rebound and level the match at 1-1.
Borchers’ goal quieted the raucous sold-out crowd inside Jeld-Wen Field, and those fans looked on in disbelief just four minutes later.
In the 42nd minute, RSL midfielder Khari Stephenson put a powerful long-distance shot on frame — something the veteran has done frequently this season. Ricketts parried the ball, but it fell into the path of Morales, who was held back by Portland defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
Referee Ricardo Salazar quickly pointed to the spot, and Morales calmly sent Ricketts the other way before burying the ensuing penalty kick inside the left post to lift RSL to a surprising 2-1 lead.
Eleven minutes into the second half, Salazar again pointed to the spot — but this time to award a penalty kick to Portland after RSL defender Brandon McDonald handled the ball inside the box.
Valeri dispatched that penalty and leveled the score at 2-2 in the 57th minute and set the scene for a crazy final half hour — a half hour that ended with Grossman's late, late heroics.
"I thought we played some pretty good stuff," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "Obviously, the PK changed some things in the second half and the red card changed the game as well, but it was a complete battle by everybody, guys who came on as well. It's a real positive for us going forward."
RSL now faces another short turnaround. The club hosts Columbus at Rio Tinto Stadium Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. MDT. It will then face Portland for the third time in 23 days when it hosts the Timbers in an NBC Sports-televised match Friday night at 8 p.m. MDT.
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"Hopefully," said Grabavoy, "we can take care of business Saturday."
ENDLINES: RSL competed Wednesday night without the services of several of its stars. Captain Kyle Beckerman missed the game because he was serving a one-match suspension for yellow card accumulation, while goalkeeper Nick Rimando and striker Alvaro Saborio were out because of a stomach virus and calf strain, respectively.
Former RSL star Will Johnson, who’s now the captain of Portland, also missed the game because of an injury.