Report card: Real Salt Lake finds way to win in tight contest with Portland Timbers
The first 19 minutes of Saturday's match between Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers was reminiscent of a junior high bully keeping you out of the bathroom when you really had to go. RSL owned the vast majority of possession, while Portland tried everything possible to get past the Salt Lake midfield, let alone through the fortress at RSL's backline. But in the 19th minute, Portland's Darlington Nagbe snuck through a crack up the left side and nearly stole one while Salt Lake was looking the other way, if not for Nick Rimando's cat-like reflexes.
The rest of the game was more even, but just a little. Real looked the more dangerous of the sides throughout the night. Finally after what seemed like attempt after attempt, Ned Grabavoy rewarded the crowd's patience in the 78th minute with a beautiful strike that snuck under a diving Donovan Ricketts to give RSL the 1-0 win.
Nick Rimando returned to the starting line-up after sitting out with a knee injury incurred while on national team duty in the USMNT friendly draw with Mexico. His replacement, Jeff Attinella did well to earn draws in both games and a shutout in last week's bout with Philadelphia. Rimando showed why he's playing with the USMNT in the 19th minute when he turned away a blistering point-blank shot by Portland's Darlington Nagbe for his first save of the night to keep the score nil-nil. He went essentially untested until the 85th minute when Portland's Alvas Powell came up from the wing to pound another near point-blank shot at Rimando who managed to get a foot out to save the shot. He did it again in the 89th minute, diving to parry away a Gaston Fernandez shot that looked certain for the far-post upper 90 until Rimando put forth another save-of-the-week effort to push it wide. Rimando was Man of the Match.
And on top of that, there's still nobody better in MLS at distributing the ball out of the box.
Chris Schuler and Nat Borchers were in the middle, Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran on the wings. Nothing new. But that's why Real Salt Lake is one of Major League Soccer's stingiest defending teams so far in 2014.
Tony Beltran was a man on a mission Saturday night. He was typically very good in the attack up the wing, but it was his defensive positioning that was terrific Saturday. He was a step quicker than usual to get back on defense off the attack, and though Portland's first shot on goal came against Beltran, along with Ned Grabavoy they were able to keep the right side of the field pretty much locked down against Nagbe and Harrington.
Chris Schuler must remain healthy. Each game he's played this year, he's improved, and he's showing why a healthy Chris Schuler doesn't just make RSL's backline formidable, he has tremendous potential for national team aspirations.
Nat Borchers has strength, he has skill and he has tremendous field smarts. Speaking of the USMNT, why isn't he in the conversation more often?
Chris Wingert plays with patience and he plays with veteran skill. It's the little things, such as taking a ball wide from a goalie reset so that defenders clear the midfield where it can be played with more options. Good, sound, fundamental soccer.
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