SANDY — Real Salt Lake didn’t wait until the dying minutes to give away the lead Saturday night.
Up a goal early, RSL got exposed on a pair of Portland counterattacks late in the first half, and when defender Tony Beltran was sent off early in the second half that was all she wrote at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Portland absorbed whatever the home side threw forward after being reduced to 10 men, pulling away for the 3-1 victory to snap a three-year, 11-game winless streak against Real Salt Lake over all competitions.
“They capitalized on two errors that we made,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. “Those two goals should not happen. It’s naive choices.”
RSL’s record since its trio of World Cup players departed after a 5-2 win at Houston is now 1-2-2, hardly the stretch of results it expected with a deep roster.
Cassar wanted to look at the big picture after Saturday’s disappointing result.
“We are second in the league in points. We can’t get too down on this, but we can realize we do have to work on things and get better at things,” said Cassar. “But if you said at almost the halfway break, 'You’re in second place overall in the league, would you be happy?' And I would say, ‘Yeah, of course.’”
Salt Lake controlled the first half but found itself trailing 2-1 at the break after two really bad transition breakdowns following its own corner kicks.
It was hardly an insurmountable deficit against a Portland squad that conceded four goals a week earlier, but it became that when Beltran picked up back-to-back yellow cards in the 53rd and 54th minutes.
Former RSL midfielder Will Johnson put the finishing touches on the victory with a penalty kick in the 72nd minute after Chris Schuler was whistled for a handball after sliding in to block a shot from Darlington Nagbe.
With West-leading Seattle winning Saturday, RSL now finds itself trailing the Sounders by seven points in the standings heading into a World Cup break from league play.
RSL will be in action next Saturday with a U.S. Open Cup match at lower-division Atlanta, but its next league game isn’t until June 28 at Chivas USA.
“Hopefully we use this week to get back to some of the principles we need to sure up. It’s tough to get good quality training sessions in a week where you had three games, but there are a few things we need to address for sure,” said Cassar.
Saturday’s loss was a frustrating one for RSL after being on the front foot most of the first half.
After creating several dangerous opportunities in the opening 20 minutes, Salt Lake finally converted the possession into a goal in the 23rd minute with Luke Mulholland slotting home a Javier Morales corner kick for his fourth goal of the season.
Portland’s Diego Chara got a head to Morales’ corner kick first, but it landed right at the feet of an unmarked Mulholland 12 yards from goal and he quickly finished for the 1-0 lead.
Timbers 'keeper Donovan Ricketts made an acrobatic save to deny Olmes Garcia in the 28th minute as Real Salt Lake threw numbers forward hoping for a second.
When RSL’s center backs pushed forward for corner kicks, however, it paid dearly. Twice RSL coughed up possession in the attacking third after a corner kick, with Portland countering quickly the other direction.
In the 36th minute that quick counter led to a corner kick, which Fanendo Adi headed home for the equalizer. Shortly before halftime, the Timbers went ahead 2-1 with Adi finishing off another counterattacking opportunity after Jeff Attinella saved the initial shot.
“Those are two crucial mistakes, but I thought we were playing pretty well and getting a lot of chances and found ourselves at halftime,” said RSL defender Chris Wingert.
Cassar said the choices RSL’s players made on the second ball after Portland cleared the initial corners were too aggressive.
“You’re going to get caught forward when you’re in an attacking set play, but it’s about the choices you make, the ball you can’t play, or realizing if I do turn it over it’s going the other way,” said Cassar. “That’s why typically you don’t jam it back down the middle. You’ve got to go wide, (or) you’re just setting them off the races.”
Real Salt Lake had no choice but to push forward down a goal in the second half, but another giveaway in its half forced Beltran to commit a professional foul in the 53rd minute to deny a counterattack to Nagbe. A minute later Beltran slid in hard on Nagbe again, resulting in another yellow.
“Anytime you’re leaving your feet, you’re leaving at the ref's discretion to make a harsh decision,” said Cassar.
Without Beltran on the field, Cassar was forced to sacrifice striker Joao Plata in favor of speedy defender Abdoulie Mansally. Plata was making his first start in three games because of a hamstring injury, but he didn’t record a shot.