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Portland, Ore. • Cole Grossman's journey back to the field has been a long one.
After suffering a concussion early in the season against FC Dallas, the Real Salt Lake midfielder has struggled through bad days, and bad weeks, trying to get healthy enough and play well enough to earn another shot with the first team.
"Concussions are really tough," he said. "It's been a really long road. I've just tried to control what I can control and be positive."
One thing Grossman could control Saturday night: a loose ball, about 10 yards from goal, in stoppage time against, with first place on the line and his team down a goal.
On an unlikely night at Jeld-Wen Field, the seldom-used Grossman netted an extra-time goal to help RSL secure a 3-3 draw against the Portland Timbers, and a crucial point in the standings..
"For the past several weeks, I feel like he's just giving everything he can … and fighting," RSL coach Jason Kreis said after the match of Grossman. "We need more guys to fight. That's the only way there is for us. That's the only way forward. That's the only way to success, is if everybody is willing to give the effort that he's been giving the past several weeks and that all the guys gave tonight."
Salt Lake found itself in a fight with Portland. Down a man, and missing several key players, RSL looked to be headed for disaster when it gave up an 87th minute goal to Portland's Kalif Alhassan, who blasted a shot past second-string goalkeeper Jeff Attinella and into the side net, setting the crowd of 20,674 into a frenzy.
At that point, Kreis said he roamed the sidelines "feeling a little bit sorry for" his players.
"I thought that they deserved more than what they were going to be getting," he said. "To walk out of here with a loss, I thought the guys worked harder than that and deserved more."
It had been a colossal matchup, though not the one most expected coming into the week.
Injuries and a suspension forced Kreis to trot out a lineup absent some of the team's biggest stars: Kyle Beckerman, the team's captain, was serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando was out with a stomach flu. And leading scorer Alvaro Saborio didn't make the trip to Portland as he deals with a calf injury the team did not want to aggravate on the artificial turf.
But down 1-0 after Portland's Rodney Wallace exploited some poor set-piece defending, RSL responded in a way it never did in last weekend's loss to the Galaxy.
In the 38th minute, Javier Morales crossed a ball into the box and off the head of midfielder Yordany Alvarez. Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts saved the shot, but spilled a rebound right to Nat Borchers' feet for an easy tap in. It was the first league goal of the year by an RSL defender.
Then, late in the first half, Morales was taken down by Timbers defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste as he fought to get to another Ricketts spill. Morales was awarded the penalty kick, which he hit softly past the Portland keeper after stutter-stepping to the ball.
Referee Ricardo Salazar helped change the game early in the second half, whistling RSL defender Brandon McDonald for a hand ball in the box. Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri picked a spot in the right corner of the net and fired, tying the game as Attinella dove the other way.
In the 79th minute, Salazar tossed Alvarez from the game, showing him a red card after a challenge on Diego Chara, leaving RSL down 10 men to 11 for the match's final minutes.
With time ticking away, Alhassan seized the opportunity to play hero, burying a rocket into the side netting for what appeared to be the game-winner.
A Portland win would have robbed RSL of a point in the ever-tightening race for the Supporters' Shield, and given the Timbers a share of first place in the West.
But Grossman, who came on only after Alvarez's red card, had other ideas.
"Just keep it on net," he told himself. "Turf field, fast field. It happens really fast. I was just trying to keep it on net, and luckily it went in."
O Nat Borchers becomes the first RSL defender to score in league play.
• RSL is without usual starters Kyle Beckeram (suspension), Nick Rimando (flu) and Alvaro Saborio (calf).
FC Dallas 3,Chivas USA 1
David Ferreira and Ramon Nunez scored in the last four minutes and FC Dallas snapped an 11-match MLS winless streak with a 3-1 victory over Chivas USA on Wednesday night. It was FC Dallas' first league win since May 25.