SANDY — It was a battle in the midfield Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, with two possession-minded teams fighting to a 1-0 victory for Real Salt Lake.
Both teams rarely managed to break into the attacking third of the pitch in the first half, with most chances on goals coming from the counter and set pieces.
“I just wanted us to come out aggressive and play with that mentality at home,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. “Obviously, given three points against a Western Conference foe in front of our fans. We’ve built up a little bit of a rivalry with Portland, so it’s always good to get a win against them and keep our distance in the standings.”
Portland (0-3-4) was the first to break through the midfield in the 19th minute when Darlington Nagbe beat RSL defenders Tony Beltran and Ned Grabavoy into the box. Fortunately, RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando was able to par the shot over the crossbar.
Rimando was a surprise addition to Cassar’s starting lineup after missing the past two games and was listed as doubtful ahead of Saturday’s clash due to a lingering knee injury.
“The saves were world-class tonight,” said Cassar, praising his keeper. “Nick was timely all night, and I couldn’t be more happy for him, especially with everything that is ahead of him.”
Both attempts on goal for RSL (3-0-4) in the first half came in the 40th minute.
Luke Mulholland played a beautiful ball into the box to the waiting head of Grabavoy, whose snap header was snatched out of the air by Timbers keeper Donovan Ricketts. Just seconds later, Alvaro Saborio took a dangerous cross from Olmes Garcia across the face of Portland’s goal only to have the ball deflected over the crossbar.
The second half was much of the same.
Portland forward Maximiliano Urruti nearly put the visitors on the score sheet in the 58th minute with a rocket from the top of the box that railed off the post. Just two minutes later it was Urruti again, this time with a one-on-one opportunity against Rimando that sailed wide of the post.
It seemed momentum was shifting to the home side in the final 20 minutes of the match given the control of possession by RSL.
In the 73rd minute, Chris Wingert dazzled the fans at Rio Tinto, working his way to the top of the box and then finding the waiting feet of Javier Morales. Morales managed to beat Ricketts with the shot, but the ball took an unfortunate bounce off the post.
Then in the 78th minute, it was Grabavoy that broke the scoreless draw.
“I keep telling him to get his shot off,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. “Tonight he finally got it off, and sure enough it went in.”
Grabavoy had a small window of opportunity at the top of the box, where the midfield sent a beautiful left-footed shot to the far post and past a leaping Ricketts.
“It felt good. It seemed like we were battling to get the goal any way we could,” Grabavoy said. “Our energy and commitment has been great these past four or five games, and I think that is why we are picking up so many points.
RSL remains the only unbeaten team in MLS.
Follow Conner Johnson on Twitter: TheConner88
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