Sandy • For Real Salt Lake and Will Johnson, Wednesday night was a reunion. For RSL and the rest of the Portland Timbers, the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup served as a getting to know you.
And in the next few months, the two teams are going to get a whole lot closer. Or, as RSL would prefer it, much further apart in the MLS standings.
After the Timbers' late push for an equalizer in the final moments of RSL's 2-1 win at Rio Tinto Stadium, a relieved Jason Kreis sung the praises of Portland, a team he said he already respected before the dogfight. He said, without hint of sarcasm, "I'm looking forward to three more matches."
The chase for the Western Conference championship was on hold this week for the midseason tournament, but there was no escaping the fact Portland entered the game with 35 points, just three back from first-place RSL.
Yeah, they were playing for something in front of the 14,742 at Rio Tinto Stadium. But things could get equally dicey with matches Aug. 21 and Oct. 19 in Portland, and a Aug. 30 home game for RSL in between.
"It's going to be really tough going on the road and playing in Portland against them," RSL defender Nat Borchers said. "They're a very good team."
The Timbers have experienced a surge into competitive relevance in their first season under coach Caleb Porter, recovering quickly from last year's 8-16-10 finish.
The addition of Johnson, the former Real midfielder, has helped, boosting the Timbers to among the league's elite. On Wednesday, the Timbers sent five shots at RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who saved all but one a header by Diego Valeri in the 90th minute. However, none was more compelling than Johnson's in the 41st minute when he took a pass at the top of the box and sent it flying toward Rimando, who dove to his left, popping the ball up and behind the goal for a corner kick. The save prevented an early equalizer, but also the seventh goal of the season for Johnson, who left the game in the 62nd minute but is enjoying his best offensive season and captains the team.
"When we're across those lines there's no friends, really," Rimando said. "But a lot of respect for him and what he's done there and obviously for his game. Happy to see him, but happy that they're not going to the finals."
Upcoming Portland games
Aug. 21 • at Portland
Aug. 30 • at Rio Tinto Stadium
Oct. 19 • at Portland