BY MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.– After 94 minutes of a hard-fought match between the top two teams in the Western Conference standings, Sal Zizzo found himself unmarked with the ball falling in front of him. Zizzo got his head to the ball and put a shot on target.
Unfortunately for Portland, Nick Rimando made a jumping save and denied the Timbers three points and a guarantee of a top-two seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The match between Real Salt Lake and the Timbers ended in a 0-0 draw in front of a rowdy Jeld-Wen Field crowd.
Rimando’s save on Zizzo came immediately after denying a Will Johnson free kick. The MLS veteran ended the match with four saves and helped RSL escape Portland with the draw.
“If it wasn’t for Nick Rimando standing on his head a couple times, I thought he was man-of-the-match in all honesty,” Caleb Porter said. “Credit to their goalkeeper.”
There was little room for flowing, possession-style soccer as the teams both tried to assert their dominance in the middle. Neither team was able to create too many opportunities due to the constant pressure from each team’s defensive midfielders and back lines.
For the first 65 minutes, neither team had a shot on target and RSL did not force Donovan Ricketts to make any saves at all. While the visitors did hold an edge in possession, Portland was the club who delivered more goal-scoring opportunities.
“We had three or four quality looks, and that’s what you get in a tight game like this,” Porter said. “You really only ask for having three or four.”
The match was Portland’s regular season home finale and capped a year that saw Jeld-Wen Field sold out for every match and the Timbers end the season on a 15-game unbeaten streak. The club’s 38 points at home is the sixth most in MLS history.
It was also the Timbers 14th shutout of 2013, which places them in a tie for fifth-most shutouts in a single MLS season. And for the first time in the club’s MLS history, they held an opponent without a shot-on-target. After multiple game-preserving saves in recent weeks by Ricketts, the Timbers defense allowed no threats on the Jamaican goalkeeper.
“(Ricketts) is having an incredible year, but it’s nice that every once in awhile, we can give him a little breather,” Jewsbury said.
RSL was without Argentine playmaker Javi Morales, who missed the match due to yellow card accumulation, while a hamstring injury forced Maxi Urruti out of the Timbers gameday 18. Morales played a key role in RSL’s two previous victories over Portland in 2013 and was missed against Portland Saturday. The Utah side was able to run its record to 2-0-2 versus the Timbers in all competitions this season. Despite this, some Timbers believe they know what it takes to beat RSL if the teams match up in the postseason.
“I think we are close enough to beating them. They are a good team, one of the best teams in the league the past couple years. Today was good for us to show that we have some clear chances on goal, all we have to do is put them away,” Darlington Nagbe said.
Due to results elsewhere around the league, Portland was able to clinch its first ever MLS playoff berth hours before the match kicked off. The draw clinched a playoff spot for RSL for the sixth straight season.
Portland remains on top of the Western Conference with 54 points, while RSL is just one point behind at 53. Both clubs will play Chivas USA in their regular season finales.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Porter said. ”We want to be a club that’s not just in the playoffs, but making a run to win it.”
Here are the match highlights: