SANDY — When the Portland Timbers make a return visit to Rio Tinto Stadium later this summer, Diego Chara might want to watch his back.
After the way the Portland midfielder methodically hacked away at Javier Morales on Saturday night, it's unlikely Real Salt Lake will treat Chara with much professional courtesy.
Realistically though, being on the painful end of numerous challenges is nothing new for the Argentine striker. He's used to getting his ankles, feet and heels clipped since he joined MLS midway through the 2007 season.
It's a strategy many teams employ, particularly at Rio Tinto Stadium where RSL is so comfortable knocking the ball around. If you hack away at a team's attacking midfielder, in theory you disrupt the entire rhythm of the attack.
That was Chara's strategy throughout RSL's 3-0 win on Saturday.
His first foul on Morales came in the 21st minute. It was really a nothing foul, Chara was just knocking Morales down to prevent an advantage situation from developing.
His foul 13 minutes later had some malice behind hit as he raked his cleat down on Morales' Achilles from behind. Morales immediately popped up and yelled at the ref to clean things up.
Morales wasn't fouled again until midway through the second half, but by then it was personal as Real Salt Lake had built a 2-0 lead with goals two minutes apart by Alvaro Saborio.
"Any time you're beating a team … there's going to be some retribution and physical challenges, you have to be very smart to stay out of those challenges, you have to be smart not to get yourself injured, you have to be very smart not to react, and for the most part I thought we did a really nice job of that," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
When Chara fouled Morales again in the 64th minute, this time recklessly going through him from behind, Morales was fed up. With Chara on top of him, Morales retaliated and tried to kicking off him.
Luis Gil, Will Johnson, Kyle Beckerman and Jamison Olave, rushed to their teammate's aid, while numerous Portland players did the same for Chara. A shoving match quickly ensued, but no punches were thrown.
"To be honest, I'm pleased that we had a reaction and said enough is enough. There was a scuffle, our guys came and they came for a purpose and that was to protect Javier," said Kreis.
Chara was yellow carded for his 64th minute foul, even though it could've easily been a red card.
Chris Wingert said Real Salt Lake always knew it was going to be physical battle, "and we're OK with that," he added.
Olave tried to flex his muscles and put an end to the "hack-a-Javy" strategy during the 64th-minute melee with intimidation, but it didn't make a difference.
A minute later Lovell Palmer fouled Morales by stepping on his foot, and then a minute after that Steven Smith barreled Morales over as he tried to chest a ball down.
Nobody rushed to Morales' aid on the next two challenges, and instead let the ref handle the situation by handing out yellows to both Palmer and Smith. Morales wasn't fouled the rest of the game.
Wingert said, it's important to stand up vehemently for teammates from time to time, but it's important not to get carried away.
"It's about finding a balance, you have a guy like Olave who's going to go in there and make sure nothing else happens. But at the same time, we don't want him to get carded. It's kind of a balance between backing up your guy but trying to keep everyone else on the field," said Wingert.
Fortunately for Real Salt Lake, everyone kept their cool and will be available for this Saturday's big match at first-place San Jose.
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