PORTLAND, Ore. — Following Wednesday’s crushing defeat in the Champions League, Jason Kreis said he was very curious to see how his team reacted.
It turns out not very well — for a half at least.
Real Salt Lake just never seemed to settle into the game in the first half on Saturday, and that was the difference as Portland took advantage with an early goal and then defended like crazy down the stretch to earn the 1-0 victory in front of a passionate sellout crowd at JELD-WEN Field.
“It felt like there was 45 minutes of pretty poor stuff and 45 minutes of really good stuff,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis. “Ultimately if I look back at it, I’d say those first 45 minutes were ‘cause that we still had one foot in Wednesday night.”
After a couple of key halftime substitutions, the visitors were much better in the second half, but the damage was already done and for the second straight game RSL was held goalless.
Ultimately, trying to bounce back so quickly from Wednesday’s loss to Monterrey might’ve been too much to ask.
The loss was Real Salt Lake’s first in a very long time in league play, 18 games to be exact. RSL was attempting to tie the league record for longest regular-season unbeaten streak in league history, but that streak came to an end Saturday night just like its home unbeaten streak ended earlier in the week.
“Obviously, it was a really tough week. I guess that’s just part of being a professional athlete. You just have to make sure the lows don’t get too low and keep plugging away,” said defender Chris Wingert.
It was the first shutout of the season for the expansion Portland Timbers, which improved to 3-0 at home with the victory. The Timbers had conceded 13 goals in six prior games, but Kreis said he suspected that the Timbers would be much more organized and motivated to play his team.
Portland came out on the front foot early creating plenty of opportunities against a very sluggish RSL squad. Chris Schuler helped keep the game scoreless with a desperate clearance in the 14th minute, but it only delayed the inevitable. The Timbers finally capitalized on all the possession in the 22nd minute as Kenny Cooper redirected a driven cross from Kalif Alhassan into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
Alhassan’s cross was very uncontested after poor defending by Collen Warner enabled Alhassan to make a penetrating run up the left sideline.
It wasn’t until about the 30th minute that Real Salt Lake finally seemed to settle down. The positive momentum only lasted about five minutes though with Portland quickly resuming control.
“We’ve just to be a little sharper and not give up any chances or less than we have in the past two games, because it cost us,” said RSL defender Chris Wingert.
In the 44th minute Portland striker Jorge Perlaza was unlucky not to double the advantage when his glancing header from about eight yards out bounced just a few feet wide of the post.
Just before the half, RSL dodged another great chance from the Timbers as Nick Rimando fully extended himself to tip away an Alhassan curing shot.
There was simply no cohesion in the midfield in the first half with Jean Alexandre playing out of position and Warner struggling to maintain possession, and Kreis subbed both out at halftime for Will Johnson and Andy Williams.
“It would be completely unfair to blame anything on those guys, those substitutions were made because we were 1-0 down and we needed to change the energy,” said Kreis.
Real Salt Lake possessed the ball much better in the second half, but it only had two shots on goal as Portland was content to sit back and defend its 1-0 lead just like Monterrey did on Wednesday.
The loss was RSL’s first of the MLS campaign after starting the year 4-0. It will try and bounce back next Saturday against visiting Chivas USA.
“With the ending of everything comes the beginning of something new,” said Kreis, about the ending of RSL’s many streaks this week. “We’ve a full week to prepare for what should be a fantastic May with a lot of home games.”
With the loss, Salt Lake remains three points behind the L.A. Galaxy in the Western Conference, but it has played three fewer matches.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company