SANDY, Utah — On Saturday, Real Salt Lake forward Robbie Findley said his team's hopes of defeating the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Championship hinged on their ability to take advantage of any chances the Timbers gave them.
On Sunday, Findley did just that, exploiting a loose ball by Portland defender Futty Danso in the 41st minute and stroking a low finish around Portland keeper Donovan Ricketts to give RSL a lead they would not relinquish en route to a 4-2 victory ahead of the second leg in Portland on Nov. 24.
Findley's goal marked a rather remarkable first-half turnaround after Timbers captain Will Johnson put his former old team in serious trouble just 13 minutes into the game. Afer RSL defender Chris Wingert was called for a foul on Portland's Diego Valeri – a play that left Wingert with a broken rib and led to his substitution some 20 minutes later – Johnson lined up a free kick from 25 yards out.
Johnson, who was traded from Salt Lake to Portland last winter, struck a knuckling, dipping shot that handcuffed RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and flew into the net for an early Portland advantage.
The goal left put the home side on their heels for much of the first half, but RSL midfielder Javier Morales began the comeback when he worked the ball into the box and deflected it off Portland midfield Diego Chara for a corner kick in the 35th minute.
Morales' delivery found the head of RSL defender Chris Schuler who snapped it in for his second goal in as many games, which doubles his career goal output.
RSL took control of the game just three minutes into the second half. After a sweet pass from Morales, Findley took the ball into the Timbers box and passed it off to Devon Sandoval, who held off Jack Jewsbury and steadied himself before sending the ball past Ricketts.
Sandoval was starting in place of RSL leading scorer Alvaro Saborio, who suffered a hip flexor strain against Los Angeles on Thursday.
In the 82nd minute, it was Morales' turn to put the ball in the net as he stooped to head a corner kick from Joao Plata past Ricketts.
But Portland grabbed a pivotal goal back in the 94th minute when substitute Frederic Piquionne's thumping header trimmed the aggregate score to make the second leg a bit more intriguing.
Because of the FIFA international dates from Nov. 15-19, both Conference Championship series take a two-week break. RSL visit Portland for the second leg on Sunday, Nov. 24, (6 pm PT, ESPN).
MLS Cup Playoffs | Western Conference Championship – Leg 1
Portland Timbers (2) at Real Salt Lake (4) – RSL leads 4-2 on aggregate
Nov. 10, 2013 – Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy, Utah)
Goals by Half 1 2 F
Portland Timbers 1 1 2
Real Salt Lake 2 2 4
POR: W. Johnson, 14
RSL: Schuler (Morales), 35
RSL: Findley, 41
RSL: Sandoval (Findley, Morales), 48
RSL: Morales (Plata), 82
POR: Piquionne (Jewsbury), 90+4
POR: Valencia (Caution), 90
Lineups & Stats
POR: GK Ricketts, D Jewsbury, D Danso, D Kah, D Harrington, M Chara, M Valeri (Alhassan, 53), M Johnson, W. ©, F Nagbe, F Johnson, R. (Valencia, 59), F Wallace (Piquionne, 75)
Substitutes Not Used: GK Kocic, D Jean-Baptiste, M Zemanski M Zizzo
TOTAL SHOTS: 7 (Alhassan, W. Johnson, 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (Alhassan, W. Johnson, 1); FOULS: 13 (Wallace, 3); OFFSIDES: 2; CORNER KICKS: 3; SAVES: 4
RSL: GK Rimando, D Beltran, D Borchers, D Schuler, D Wingert (Palmer, 33), M Beckerman ©, M Velasquez, M Gil, M Morales (Grabavoy, 86), F Findley (Plata, 66), F Sandoval
Substitutes Not Used: GK Attinella, M Grossman, M Stephenson, F García
TOTAL SHOTS: 18 (Four players, 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 8 (Borchers, Gil, 2); FOULS: 13 (Borchers, Sandoval, 4); OFFSIDES: 0; CORNER KICKS: 7; SAVES: 1
Referee: Armando Villarreal
Assistant Referees: George Gansner, Frank Anderson
4th Official: Baldomero Toledo
Time of Game: 1:53