Real Salt Lake has won an MLS Cup and played for the CONCACAF Champions League title. Now the nine-year-old Utah club will play in its first Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final.
Alvaro Saborio scored in the seventh minute and set up substitute Joao Plata for what proved to be a vital insurance goal in the 78th as Real Salt Lake held off the Portland Timbers 2-1 Wednesday night in front of 14,742 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium – a record attendance for a semifinal in the tournament’s Modern Pro Era.
RSL will play host to DC United in the 100th US Open Cup final October 1 at Rio Tinto. The winning team will claim a berth in next season’s CONCACAF Champions League and a $250,000 prize in addition to the trophy.
While things certainly could change over the next eight weeks, Real Salt Lake currently is tied for the most points in Major League Soccer, while DC United has the fewest. However, two-time Open Cup champion DC United won the only league meeting between the sides 1-0 back on March 9 in the nation’s capital.
Both Portland and RSL fielded strong sides in the first match of the season between the Western Conference rivals, who also will meet in league play August 21 and 30 and October 19.
RSL welcomed back starting outside backs Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert, but had Ned Grabavoy at the top of its diamond midfield with Javier Morales limited to the bench because of an adductor injury suffered in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the Colorado Rapids in MLS play. The Timbers’ starting XI was highlighted by midfielder Will Johnson’s return to Salt Lake, where he played for five seasons before being traded to Portland last offseason.
Saborio gave the home team the early lead, heading in a cross from Kyle Beckerman. After a corner kick, Beckerman got the ball on the right flank, created some space around Rodney Wallace and played a cross to the far post that Saborio headed over Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and into the right side of the net for the 1-0 lead.
Each side enjoyed stretches of extended possession, but Portland had two great chances to pull level before halftime.
First, Darlington Nagbe found center back Andrew Jean-Baptiste somewhat surprisingly cruising free down the right side in the 40th. Baptiste carried the ball into the box and squared it for Will Johnson, who hit the skipping ball first-time. RSL keeper Nick Rimando made a fine save, flipping the ball up and over the crossbar for a corner kick.
Then in first-half stoppage time, Diego Valeri served in a corner kick from the right side that Ryan Johnson got to at the far post. He headed the ball from a tough angle and it hit Beltran – replays indicated the ball might have hit the left back’s arm or shoulder, but whatever the case, referee Mark Geiger didn’t blow his whistle.
The visitors had the better of play for the opening 10 minutes of the second half, too, but didn’t really threaten the goal in that time. Will Johnson received a nice ovation from the RSL fans when he was subbed out with an apparent right arm injury in the 63rd.
Portland had a golden chance to equalize in the 72nd. The RSL back line lost track of Valeri, who was left all alone and got his head on a pinpoint cross from left back Ryan Miller, but the ball flashed wide of the left post.
Six minutes later, the combination of Saborio and Plata teamed up to double Real Salt Lake’s lead.
Plata played the ball ahead to Saborio near the top of the box, and he laid it back for his strike partner. The 5-foot-3 Ecuadorian promptly ripped a shot from 25 yards out that zipped past Ricketts into the left side of the goal, giving RSL a 2-0 lead in the 78th.
The second goal proved to be integral as Valeri did get the Timbers on the board in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. He worked past both Beltran and Borchers and let loose with a shot that Rimando was able to save, but the Argentinian stayed with the ball and headed it in to cut the lead in half. It was the first goal surrendered by RSL in Open Cup play in 282 minutes dating to their 5-2 win over USL Pro’s Charleston Battery in the fourth round.
Semifinal: Portland Timbers 1-2 Real Salt Lake
August 7 | Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy UT | Attendance: 14,742
RSL: Alvaro Saborio (Kyle Beckerman) 7
RSL: Joao Plata (Alvaro Saborio) 78
POR: Diego Valeri 91+
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Carlos Salcedo, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert; Luis Gil (Yordany Alvarez 88), Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Khari Stephenson (Javier Morales 80); Alvaro Saborio, Robbie Findley (Joao Plata 61). Substitutes not used: Jeff Attinella (GK), Lovel Palmer, Sebastian Velasquez, Olmes Garcia.
Portland Timbers: Donovan Ricketts; Ryan Miller (Alvas Powell 77), Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa-Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson (Jose Adolfo Valencia 63), Diego Chara, Diego Valeri; Rodney Wallace, Ryan Johnson (Kalif Alhassan 63), Darlington Nagbe. Substitutes not used: Jake Gleeson (GK), Jack Jewsbury, Rauwshan McKenzie, Ben Zemanski.
RSL: Carlos Salcedo (caution) 42
POR: Ryan Johnson (caution) 42, Pa-Modou Kah (caution) 94+
Saves: RSL (Rimando) 5, POR (Ricketts) 2. Shots: RSL 9, POR 13. Corner kicks: RSL 4, POR 8. Fouls: RSL 11, P 12. Offsides: RSL 2, POR 3.