In the first of three league meetings between the Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake, the two teams played like it was their last.
The game dripping in playoff implications had it all – two penalty kicks, a red card and two goals in the final 10 minutes, including one in stoppage time – as the Timbers and RSL played to a 3-3 tie on a steamy Wednesday night at JELD-WEN Field.
Portland goals by Rodney Wallace, Diego Valeri and Kalif Alhassan were offset by RSL goals by Nat Borchers, Javier Morales and Cole Grossman. Alhassan scored in the 85th minute to break a 2-2 tie, only to see Grossman net the equalizer in the third minute of added time.
The result – played out with each team missing their captain, Will Johnson for Portland (injury) and Kyle Beckerman for RSL (suspension) – leaves Real alone atop the conference standings with Portland still trailing by three points with two games in hand.
As for the soccer, things first started brilliantly for Portland.
They flirted with a goal in the fourth minute when fullback Alvas Powell made a deep run down the right flank and crossed into the area, where a clearance attempt went straight to Valeri, whose golden chance found the woodwork.
But Portland struck gold in the 24th minute when Valeri picked Wallace out of the cement mixer in the six on a long free kick. Wallace did the rest with a clinical header past RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella for his ninth goal of the season.
But RSL quickly got back to work, and found the equalizer in the 38th minute when a Morales cross found Joao Plata in the box. Plata, who scored the game winner in RSL's victory over Portland two weeks ago in the semifinals of the US Open Cup, was stymied by Portland ‘keeper Donovan Ricketts, but Borchers was in the right place at the right time for the easy goal on cleanup duty.
The visitors then pulled ahead when Morales got tangled up with Portland defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste and went sprawling to the turf. That was enough for Ricardo Salazar to blow his whistle and point to the spot, where Morales easily converted.
Portland was rewarded with their own penalty kick early in the second half when defender Brandon McDonald was called for a handball on a feed from Darlington Nagbe to Wallace into the penalty area. Valeri calmly converted in the 56th minute to tie the game at 2-2.
The Claret-and-Cobalt were dealt a further blow when Yordany Alvarez, just returning from a three-game suspension for a bad tackle on New York's Tim Cahill, saw straight red for a hard tackle on Diego Chara.
Portland appeared to have the three points in hand when Alhassan, a second-half substitute, blasted home his first goal since March 12. But Grossman, also a late substitute, netted just his second goal of the season with a blast from the right corner.
The Timbers next face rival Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, while RSL returns home to face Columbus on Saturday.
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