SANDY — Less than a week after blitzing its way to a 4-0 victory over Columbus, Real Salt Lake got after it again — and in a hurry — against Portland Friday night.
Two goals in the first 15 minutes staked RSL to a quick lead that it never relinquished en route to a 4-2 victory over the Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I think the difference was a fantastic start,” RSL coach Jason Kreis said. “That set the tempo of the play in the first half, and what we were able to do early on changed the whole landscape of the match.”
The win gives RSL a league-high 48 points and keeps it on top of the Supporters' Shield standings.
Forward Joao Plata, in particular, brought the energy from the opening whistle and had a hand in Real Salt Lake’s first three goals.
Plata assisted on the first goal, which was a teamwork of art as four Real Salt Lake players — Luis Gil to Javier Morales on the right, centered to Kyle Beckerman, and then sent to Plata, who one-touched a through ball back to Gil inside the 18-yard box — touched the ball in a matter of seconds before Gil sent a back-post rocket past Portland 'keeper Donovan Ricketts.
Then in the 15th minute, Plata received a pass just inside the 18-yard box on the left, made his defender look silly with a hesitation stepover that created a few feet of space, then launched a shot off the far post and into the net.
“When the ball was on somebody’s foot in the box, they were clinical,” Kreis said. “That’s the difference between the absolute best teams and the mediocre ones. ... Tonight, those first two opportunities — Gil’s shot and Plata’s shot — were fantastic.”
Portland got on the board in the 31st minute thanks to Darlington Nagbe, who dribbled up the right-middle of the field while being marked loosely by the combination of Chris Wingert and Nat Borchers, who sagged off him just enough for Nagbe to drill a shot past a diving Nick Rimando from 25 yards out.
Portland’s wave of momentum, though, fizzled just before halftime when defender Ben Zemanski was given a straight red card for a cleats-up tackle of Ned Grabavoy near midfield.
Up a man after the red card, RSL dominated possession in the second half. The final 40 minutes or so amounted to Real Salt Lake taking potshots on a helpless Ricketts while Portland tried desperately to get something going on a counterattack.
The result was two more goals by Real Salt Lake. The first came when Morales, unmarked on the back post, settled a corner from Plata, then turned and launched a bicycle kick off the far post and into the net to give RSL some much-needed breathing room.
Then, in the 67th minute, Morales sent in a free kick to the 6-yard box, where Alvaro Saborio glided in and powered a header to the near post and past Ricketts to give RSL a 4-1 lead.
Sal Zizzo added a goal for Portland in the 78th minute.
This was the third meeting between RSL and Portland in the past 24 days — RSL beat Portland 2-1 in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal on Aug. 7, then the two teams tied 3-3 (thanks in large part to a game-tying goal in the 93rd minute by RSL’s Cole Grossman) on August 23.
Real Salt Lake’s next match is Sept. 13 on the road against Seattle at 8 p.m. MDT.
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