By MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore. – A Cole Grossman goal in stoppage time gave Real Salt Lake a comeback draw in a wild match against the Portland Timbers.
Grossman’s goal was the decider as the Timbers and 10-man Real Salt Lake played to a 3-3 draw at Jeld-Wen Field Wednesday night. The matchup of two teams near the top of the Western Conference table did not disappoint, as the game featured several back-and-forth moments, two penalty kicks, and a red card to Yordany Alvarez. Kalif Alhassan, Diego Valeri, and Rodney Wallace scored the goals for the home side while Grossman, Nat Borchers and Javier Morales found the score sheet for RSL.
“If we’re being honest, we’re all pretty gutted not to get that three points. Honestly, it’s in our hands at three-two,” Porter said.
After what Porter called a “miss clearance” by Timbers defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Grossman calmly put the ball past a sprawling Donovan Ricketts three minutes into stoppage time. Grossman was making his first appearance since March after dealing with a concussion for the majority of the season. It was also only Grossman’s second appearance for RSL after being claimed off waivers following two disappointing seasons with the Columbus Crew.
Grossman’s second career professional goal gave RSL a point and the club maintained its three-point lead over the Timbers.
“Most goals are scored with multiple mistakes and I think there were clearly a few mistakes, things that could have been better,” Porter said.
“The key thing is, you can’t play not to lose. When you play not to lose, you lose. We’re at our best when we’re proactive.”
Portland looked like it would take the victory after Kalif Alhassan sent a bullet past RSL backup goalkeeper Jeff Attinella in the 86th minute. After a collision between Borchers and the Timbers’ Jose Adolfo Valencia, the ball found the feet of Alhassan and after one touch he sent a screamer that was touched by Attinella, but still found its way into the net. It was Alhassan’s first goal for the Timbers since the 2012 season opener and looked to be the decider until Grossman’s late heroics.
Despite being minutes away from a victory, the Timbers never looked as sharp as the club had at earlier parts of the season.
“The reality is that we really didn’t play well enough to win the game,” Michael Harrington said. “We were in a position to win it, but it wasn’t quite good enough from us tonight.”
RSL did take the lead into halftime, but the Timbers tied it up when the hosts were awarded a penalty kick after Brandon McDonald was struck by the ball in the elbow inside the penalty area. Diego Valeri calmly finished from the spot to tie the game.
Despite not having many scoring opportunities in the first 35 minutes, RSL more than made up for it when they turned the game on its head in the final ten minutes of the first half. RSL got on the board when Nat Borchers cleaned up a saved header from Alvarez, who was ejected in the latter parts of a game that marked his return from suspension.
“After we scored the goal, our mentality let down a little bit. The last few games that has been a little bit of an issue, we’ve had good spells, but our mentality is not there for 90 minutes. That’s hurt us,” Harrington said. “It’s a psychological mentality we need to fix.”
Five minutes later, Ricardo Salazar pointed to the spot when Jean-Baptiste was judged to have taken down Javier Morales. The Argentine finished what he started by easily beating Ricketts from the spot to tally his sixth goal of the season. Jean-Baptiste admitted to making contact, but thought Morales went down softly.
“He felt my hand and he saw the opportunity and that my arm was on him,” Jean-Baptiste said. “It wasn’t enough to send a real player down, but he saw the opportunity and he took advantage of it. The ref saw it and gave him a gift.”
Valeri continued his hot form with the goal and an assist. He delivered his seventh helper in six games for the Timbers when his curling free kick found the head of Timbers winger Rodney Wallace, who left Attinella little chance of making the stop. It was Wallace’s fifth goal of the season, but first since May.
While both teams were missing their respective captains in Will Johnson and Kyle Beckerman, RSL was also missing goalkeeper Nick Rimando due to illness and forward Alvorio Saborio due to a calf strain. In Beckerman’s stead, Jason Kreis turned to Alvarez, who was returning from a three-game suspension due to a studs-up challenge against the New York Red Bulls. After a Alvarez went in hard against Diego Chara, he was shown red by Salazar.
Rimando, meanwhile, was replaced by Attinella, who captured his first point as a starter after coming into the match with losses in his previous two MLS starts. Attinella had just two saves on the night, but his denial of a Ryan Johnson header in the early moments of the second half kept RSL in front for the time being.
The Timbers will return to action Sunday when they take on their rival Seattle Sounders in what is expected to be Clint Dempsey’s home debut for Seattle. RSL, meanwhile, travels home where they will take on the Columbus Crew Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are the match highlights: