Timbers defeat drained Real Salt Lake 1-0
Cooper scores in 22nd minute
Choose the story line that came out of Jeld-Wen Field Saturday night.
Option 1: The Portland Timbers defeated previously perfect Real Salt Lake 1-0 on a 22nd-minute goal by Kenny Cooper before an announced sellout crowd of 18,627 to remain perfect at home.
Option 2: The Portland Timbers squeezed out a 1-0 victory over a Real Salt Lake side playing at less than half strength because of a CONCACAF Champions League finals match against Monterrey on Wednesday.
'We really came into a no-win situation,' Timbers coach John Spencer said. 'If they beat us tonight, it's like, 'Salt Lake's reserves beat expansion team the Timbers,' that's the headline. If we win tonight, it's like, 'Oh, Portland Timbers beat Real Salt Lake's reserves.' '
Spencer wasn't having too much of Option 2, though.
'For us,' he said, 'you put a team on the field to win the game. They didn't come here prepared to lose. So they must have felt the team was good enough to beat us. On the night, it wasn't.'
Real Salt Lake had lost 1-0 at home to Monterrey, costing it a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup. No MLS team has ever made it to that tournament, and RSL was described as shattered, devastated and emotionally drained from the defeat.
Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury said that many on his team took it personally when they learned Real Salt Lake was sitting six starters on Saturday.
'When we realized they weren't starting (those players), for us, I wouldn't say a slap in the face, but it's like, 'Hey, they rested guys for a game against us,' ' Jewsbury said. 'We realized they had their Champions League game, but at the same time to not play your full squad maybe rubbed some guys wrong and maybe gave us a little bit extra effort coming out of the gate.'
That attitude paid dividends for the Timbers (3-3-1, 10 points).
The goal came after Jewsbury played a free kick to Kalif Alhassan in the Timbers' attacking third. Alhassan took the ball down the left touch line. As the defenders closed around him, Alhassan sent the ball into the 6-yard box, where Cooper had gotten position on the two defenders marking him.
Cooper took the ball in the air and sent a pointblank shot to the left of Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
As smoke bombs from the Timbers Army exploded, Cooper swung like a monkey from the crossbar in pure triumph.
'The ball was played to me from Jack,' Alhassan said. 'I played it one time and saw Kenny Cooper coming. I knew there was a goal coming, so I got him the ball, and we had a goal.'
Cooper was unavailable for comment after the match because he was receiving treatment for an unspecified injury.
With the goal, Spencer said he believed that the Timbers' offense was about to explode.
'My thought was, 'Can they contain us?' ' he said. 'We were playing some good football. They couldn't handle us physically in the back for the first 30 to 35 minutes.'
For the rest of the half, though, Real Salt Lake (4-1-0, 12 points) attacked the Timbers.
Just beyond the 30-minute mark, Real Salt Lake appeared to score a goal after a corner kick. Alvaro Saborio headed a ball into the body of Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins and buried the deflection in the back of the net. But the goal was disallowed because Nat Borchers fouled Jewsbury with a push in the back while the ball was in the air.
'I was marking Saborio, and (Borchers) shoved me from behind,' Jewsbury said. 'There's tons of pushing (on corner kicks) both ways, usually. When it's pretty blatant like that, they've got to call it, but you never know. So obviously when the whistle blew it was nice to hear.'
At the start of the second half, Real Salt Lake put starting midfielders Andy Williams and Will Johnson into the match. RSL began dominating the pace of the match with the additional starters in the lineup. The entire club's touches improved, putting the Timbers on their heels.
'You can't go out and dominate games for 90 minutes against quality opposition,' Spencer said. 'There's going to be times in the game where the opponents are going to get the upper hand, when they're going to control possession.'
Still, Real Salt Lake was unable to score the equalizer. And, in the 71st minute, RSL put in yet another starter, midfielder Ned Grobavoy.
Spencer said it was not by design, but the Timbers countered the influx of RSL quality players in the midfield by flooding their own midfield and sitting back deep on defense.
Real Salt Lake completely dominated time of possession in the second half, keeping the ball constantly in its attacking third. But RSL could never create enough spacing between the Timbers defenders to get a good shot on goal.
'They had the majority of the possession the second half, probably 75 percent of it,' said Perkins, who made three saves in the game. 'But that happens when you put three guys in who are very experienced and now they also have numbers up in the midfield.'
Perkins said the Timbers' backline was able to hold off the RSL attacks by being both 'tight' and 'simple.'
'Tonight, you saw us really compact, and we were in good spots and good shape all around,' Perkins says. 'Anytime they had the ball, the only chance they had was to get it wide, and that's not how they like to play.'
The Timbers will play two home matches next week. The first is a U.S. Open Cup play-in match against the San Jose Earthquakes on Tuesday. The second is a MLS match Saturday against Philadelphia Union.
For Spencer, the true test of the club's grit will not come until the following Saturday, when the Timbers travel to Seattle in search of the first MLS road win in franchise history.
'I just said to the guys in the locker room,' Spencer said, ''until we do something away from home, we're never ever going to get the credit for the good wins and good performances that we're putting in here at Jeld-Wen Field.'