SANDY, Utah – When the 2013 season is in the books, the Portland Timbers’ biggest goal of the year just might have come in a loss.
Indeed, Frederic Piquionne’s 94th-minute header in Portland’s 4-2 loss to Real Salt Lake in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship at Rio Tinto Stadium may just save the Timbers' season. At the very least, it gives the Timbers a breath of life heading into the second leg in the Rose City on Nov. 24 down just two goals rather than three.
“The reality is, three is a whole other ball game,” Timbers defender Jack Jewsbury said. “Two is doable.”
Jewsbury knows what he’s talking about. The MLS veteran actually did it before when he played for the then-Kansas City Wizards. It was 2004, and in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals Kansas City lost 2-0 in San Jose before turning around and winning 3-0 at home.
That year, Kansas City went on to play in the MLS Cup final.
“I think if nothing else it kind of puts a sour taste in their mouths at the end of the game and you realize now that if we get one at home then all of a sudden it becomes very, very interesting,” Jewsbury said. “So we feel confident moving forward. Obviously not the result we had hoped for coming in, but we realize that with the group we have in this locker room, two goals is very doable.”
It certainly punctuated a night of highs and lows for Portland.
They jumped out on top with a 14th-minute free kick from team captain Will Johnson, who previously played at RSL before coming to Portland this season. But the Claret-and-Cobalt scored four unanswered goals to take an ominous 4-1 lead going into stoppage time.
“There’s not a guy in this locker room who believes our season is over right now,” Johnson said. “So we’re going to go there with our fans and our fight, and we’re going to fight.”
Timbers head coach Caleb Porter actually said he’s “looking forward to seeing how aggressive and proactive we are in pushing this game.” He has good reason: Portland have scored three or more goals seven times this season.
“Last goal was huge, that was big, because we’ve come back from two goals quite a bit this year actually,” Porter said. “You look it as a 2-0 lead, and if we get that first goal we’re going to make this thing interesting. And there’s no doubt about it, every guy in that locker room, coaching staff, we all believe we can turn this thing around and win this series.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.