Real Salt Lake’s playoff hopes in jeopardy after 3-1 loss to Portland


SANDY, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Real Salt Lake had a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a victory over the Portland Timbers Wednesday night. But RSL came up short again, losing 3-1 and putting its playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

Sebastian Blanco scored a pair of first-half goals as Portland raced out to a 3-0 halftime lead and never looked back.

Albert Rusnak scored the lone goal for Real Salt Lake in the 88th minute on a penalty kick, his career-high 11th of the season.

Portland (16-13-4, 52 points) beat RSL for a third time this season, clinching a top-four spot in the West and a home game in the MLS Cup playoffs. The Timbers’ potent offense overwhelmed Salt Lake once again, as Portland scored 12 goals against RSL this year.

“They’ve been ruthless in front of goal, especially on counters,” said RSL interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni. “I think we knew what we were up against. I think in different moments we weren’t giving up another corner kick goal to the shortest guy on the field. That’s obviously not in the plans. I think we controlled the game. I don’t think that they controlled the game. I think they controlled an important moment or two when they scored, but other than that, I thought we dictated the flow, dictated the game.”

Real Salt Lake (13-14-6, 45 points) would have clinched a playoff berth with a victory.

RSL, who lost for the fourth time in six matches, can still lock down a playoff spot on Sunday by beating Sporting Kansas City in the regular season finale in Kansas City. A loss or a draw, and RSL’s season will come to an end.

“Right now we have no momentum, we’ve lost back to back games at home,” Rusnak said. “I don’t know if we’ve lost two in a row at home this year. Not many teams have come here and scored three or four goals against us. We are all surprised by what we’ve done in our last few games. We had momentum going into the last game against San Jose after winning on the road against Dallas and that momentum didn’t help us. I don’t think momentum is what is on our mind right now as players. Sunday is going to be a game that starts at zeros and lasts 90 minutes just like any other game. We have won tough games on the road before. The toughest thing for us now is to forget about the last two games at home. We have to go into Sunday’s game without any second thoughts and focus on Kansas City.“

Portland struck first in the 17th minute, scoring on a header from Blanco that came against the run of play. Cristhian Paredes sent a header into the 6-yard box off of a corner kick. Blanco got to the ball after Maikael Chang got caught flat-footed at the near post and redirected it into the back post.

Real Salt Lake narrowly missed an equalizer in the 26th minute. Justen Glad hit the crossbar with a header after Albert Rusnak sent a cross to him in the center of the box.

RSL’s porous backline ultimately dug a huge hole for the Utah club before halftime.

A defensive mistake extended the Timbers’ lead to 2-0 in the 38th minute. Aaron Herrera was credited with an own goal after Blanco fired the ball into the 6-yard box while being challenged by Glad.

Blanco capped off a takeaway with his second goal in the 45th minute. He dribbled down, laid the ball off to Jaroslaw Niezgoda and blasted a shot down the middle when Niezgoda sent a pass back to him.

After winning seven straight at home, Real Salt Lake now has given up seven goals in two straight losses to San Jose and Portland.

“I’d like to give you a magic solution,” Mastroeni said. “I think there are decisions that are made on the field. I think we just have to be more aware of where we are in the field and in the decisions that we’re making. I think It might have been the third goal we had ample time and space to play. We take a few extra touches and then we pin ourselves and then they break again. There’s no magic fix. It’s about understanding where you are on the field and the players that are around you to make the best decision. I thought 95% of the time we did a really good job of that and in that 5% we saw some dangerous chances and a couple of goals.”

RSL’s playoff fate will be decided Sunday at 4:00 against Sporting KC.

Prior to kickoff, the Real Salt Lake honored former captain Kyle Beckerman,” who played 14 seasons with the club. RSL renamed Rio Tinto Stadium’s Section Five in honor of Beckerman, naming the seating section “Beckerman’s Block”.

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