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.
"I think it's a very dangerous team we were playing there," said head coach Jason Kreis. "I think that with that kind of crowd and that kind of momentum, they can get behind them. It's extremely difficult and I have a ton of respect for our opponent. I think when you enter this time of the season, you're always thinking that you want to go places for wins, but if you walk out of places with a draw at this time in the season, that has to be success."
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.
"I thought we played some pretty good stuff," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "Obviously, the PK changed some things in the second half and the red card changed the game as well, but it was a complete battle by everybody, guys who came on as well. It's a real positive for us going forward, hopefully we can take care of business Saturday."
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 were 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.
"I'm feeling a little bit sorry for the guys, I really was," said Kreis. "I thought that they deserved more than what they were going to be getting. Had we walked out of here with a loss, I think the guys would have worked harder than that and deserved more. So, I'm really, really pleased that we scored that late goal and have them hold on to maintain the draw."
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 to silence the raucous Timbers crowd.
“It was a fantastic effort by Cole [Grossman], by everyone to fight throughout that on this field, on this surface, with a good team like that," said defender Tony Beltran. "At times, it's not going to be pretty. We knew it was just going to be a battle today, so I think the fact that we showed that heart, that effort; that was a big boost going forward. We needed that response after the LA game.”
RSL next returns home to face Columbus on Saturday.