Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 2:41 PM
Oops, they did it again.
With a swift swing of Robbie Findley’s left foot, Real Salt Lake sunk Portland and punched a trip to its second Major League Soccer Cup final.
The Claret-and-Cobalt might have finished second to the Timbers in the Western Conference race during the regular season, but make no mistake about it — RSL absolutely owned Portland like no other team in the league.
You can debate how close most of the matches were, but the bottom line is the teams played six times this season. Salt Lake won four of those, and tied the other two, scoring 14 goals in the process, and the Timbers had absolutely no answer to it.
Real boss Jason Kreis himself was at a bit of a loss to explain his sides’ sheer dominance of Portland.
“I can’t really explain it. I honestly can’t,” Kreis said. “I think that the teams are very evenly matched. I think every game feels to me to be very even. I think that we do a pretty good job of exploiting the spaces that are there, and we have the players in the right spots to take advantage of that situation. We’ve scored some goals at critical moments. I think that they haven’t scored some goals at critical moments that they probably should have. So I feel like it’s more of just a being fortunate situation, more than anything else.”
Twice during this season’s six meetings, Salt Lake dropped a four-spot on the scoreline, something it did only two other times during 2013. One of those four-goal outbursts came during the opening leg of the Western Conference championship series, which gave RSL a commanding advantage as it headed into the second leg on Sunday night in Portland, Ore.
“It wasn’t easy. They’re a tough team. They play great at home, especially, and they’ve done well on the road, as well,” RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “We were able to really find the holes, find space, because they were pushing forward, and that’s the way the game was. Fortunately, we didn’t give up a goal, and that helps as well.”
So how did Real dismantle the west’s top seed so thoroughly?
A large part of it comes down to tactics.
While Salt Lake is generally regarded as one of the league’s strongest teams in the middle of the park, Portland’s personnel gives the Timbers a penchant for being disruptive to in the middle third and forcing their opponents into the channels blindly and causing turnovers.
Instead of being bothered by Portland’s tactics, Real thrived against them.
Kreis made the decision to sacrifice part of RSL’s control of the midfield and use those outside channels. That decision led to uncountable forays into the attacking third by Salt Lake during the 180 minutes, and the teams comfort taking that route led to fluid attacking and eventually strong finishing or deserved set pieces allowed RSL to blow the series open.
“We have so many players that have played in this system for so long, and have played together for so long, that I think that they just have an innate sense of where they need to be at all times,” Kreis said. “When we have the ball, when we don’t have the ball, in transition, and I just think that we play to our strengths really well. We know our weaknesses, and we have tactically smart enough players to take advantage of the opponents’ weaknesses, as well.”
And that is why RSL will soon have a chance to hoist its second MLS Cup title.
You can follow Justin Johnson on Twitter at: @jjohnson801 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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