By JOSE M. ROMERO
Playoff spot clinched, Real Salt Lake had victory in its grasp in its regular-season finale Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, plus the chance to lock up the No. 3 seed from the MLS Western Conference with no help from other results.
RSL's reward for No. 3? Extra rest with a wild-card round bye, a chance to regroup after going winless in its previous six matches including Saturday's 1-1 draw with the Timbers, and the No. 2 seed Seattle Sounders — a team in top form going into the playoffs — in a home-and-home series starting next weekend in Sandy, Utah.
With San Jose's dismantling of FC Dallas later Saturday night, Real Salt Lake's single point from its match assured it of that third seed. Of course, RSL could not have known that FCD would be blown out by the Earthquakes; nevertheless, RSL's winless streak continued thanks to a goal by the Timbers' Mamadou "Futty" Danso in the first minute of second-half extra time.
Danso happened to be lurking at the far post as a ball came in from Brian Umony to teammate Bright Dike. Dike sem-whiffed his attempted shot from inside the box in front of RSL keeper Nick Rimando, but got enough of the ball to deflect it to Danso for the finish.
Until the goal, Real Salt Lake led 1-0 on a goal by Alvaro Saborio just before halftime. Saborio got ahead of Danso and high ball from Fabian Espindola bounced perfectly and landed at Saborio's feet for the shot, Saborio's 11th goal of the season.
RSL (15-11-8) had more and better scoring opportunities in the first half, Saborio very active in the box. The Timbers were fortunate for the hustle of midfielder Diego Chara to break up a nifty 1-2 between Will Johnson and Javier Morales at close range.
The Timbers had an opportunity to tie much earlier after a handball in the box by defender Chris Wingert in the 54th minute. Jack Jewsbury stepped up for the PK but saw his shot clang off the cross bar and into the seats.
Kenny Cooper, who'd come on strong to close out the regular season for Portland, left the pitch for a substitute in the 66th minute, ending his game action for 2011. The Timbers (11-14-9) could only lament lost points down the stretch in their elimination from the postseason, but didn't quit in front of a large contingent of their fans who'd made the trip to Utah.
Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins' inadvertent elbow struck RSL's Nat Borchers in the back of the head in the 73rd minute as the two went airborne for a ball. Borchers was down on the pitch for a few moments but finished the game.
The Timbers seemed doomed to end their inaugural season in defeat, but Danso's goal saved them from that fate.