By MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- Real Salt Lake used an early goal to solidify its aggregate lead and never looked back as the club booked its spot in the MLS Cup final for the second time in franchise history.
Robbie Findley’s first-half goal was the difference as RSL defeated the host Timbers, 1-0, on Sunday night at Jeld-Wen Field. The goal also gave RSL a 5-2 advantage on aggregate and sets up a match with Sporting Kansas City in the MLS Cup final, set to take place on Dec. 7 at Sporting Park.
Findley’s goal came when Donovan Ricketts was unable to corral a Luis Gil blast. Findley beat Michael Harrington and Futty Danso to the ball and put it past a helpless Ricketts. It was a club-best sixth career playoff goal for Findley.
“I said it all year long, we brought Robbie Findley back because he’s capable of scoring goals in the biggest moments,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said.
The goal completed an outstanding series for Findley, who had two goals and an assist in the two playoff matches against Portland.
“If Robbie’s healthy, I’ve said it for years, he makes our team a different team,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said. “He makes our team, the team that we want to be and that we were in ’09 and what we built from ’08.”
For Portland, Findley’s goal was due to the inability to clear a rebound after initial Ricketts’ save.
“I feel like maybe it was a little bit of a miscommunication on who was getting the ball to clear it. At the end of the day, the ball’s got to get clear, either by myself or Pa (Kah). It’s on us to not let that happen,” Michael Harrington said.
Danso had two potential goals waived off in the first half. The first came when Rodney Wallace was called for a push on the buildup to a Danso header, while Danso was offside after tapping in a saved Diego Valeri shot.
Despite a frenetic start to the match, once RSL found its goal, the match slowed down considerably. That style perfectly suited RSL, which was able to limit the Timbers to mostly half-chances for the final 60 minutes of the match.
The loss was just eighth of the season for the Portland Timbers in all competitions, but RSL proved once again to be unbeatable for the Rose City club. Portland finished the season with two draws and four losses against RSL in six matches. While the season series appears lopsided, Kreis isn’t sure why RSL has been able to thwart the Timbers so often in 2013.
“I can’t really explain it, I honestly can’t. I think the teams were very evenly matched. In every game it feels to me to be very even,” Kreis said. “We do a pretty good job of exploiting the spaces when they are there.”
The second half saw little goalmouth action with numerous Timbers shots blocked by RSL defenders. The center back tandem of Chris Schuler and Nat Borchers allowed little space for Portland’s forwards and attacking midfielders.
In a season that was filled with so many highs for Portland, the Timbers were simply unable to overcome Real Salt Lake’s solid defending and timely goals. While most coaches would be happy with a season that produced the largest turnaround in goal difference in MLS history, Porter was already looking ahead.
“Our goal is to raise trophies, first and foremost,” Porter said. “This was a great year. But again, we didn’t raise a trophy. So we’re going to keep pushing.”
Pa-Modou Kah, signed by the Timbers in May, was also already thinking about next season immediately following the match.
“We will be coming back stronger next year and we will push again to make it to the final, and this time to make it to the MLS Cup” Kah said. “We’ll take our knock today, but that should be our motivation for next season.”
Real Salt Lake heads to the MLS Cup final riding a three-game playoff winning streak after dispatching the defending champion LA Galaxy and the Western Conference No. 1 seed Portland Timbers. But before they get there, Kreis seemed satisfied with the Western Conference Championship trophy.
“I think, for me, the most rewarding thing is not about getting back to the MLS Cup. The most rewarding thing is that finally this group has won a trophy, another trophy. Frankly, in my eyes, this team deserves more trophies than they have. They’ve put themselves in a position to win so many times and just been unfortunate not to,” Kreis said. “So I think this is a very deserved trophy for what we’ve done over the regular season and certainly in the playoffs, but more so for what we’ve done for five years.”