By TYLER GRAY
SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers developed quite a rivalry last season. They played each other a total of six times but RSL dominated the series never losing once. Their meeting Saturday was a chance for the visiting Timbers to break the trend — but not without RSL having something to say about it.
The match was full of energy from the beginning as it was evident that both sides were hungry for a victory, with RSL coming out on top, 1-0. It wasn’t until the second half that the winning goal was scored by RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy, extending RSL’s unbeaten streak and piling on to the Timber’s misery.
RSL was up a goal trying to ride out the match in the 88th minute when captain Kyle Beckerman had an uncharacteristic turnover. Timbers substitute Gaston Fernandez pounced on the opportunity and blasted a left-footed shot that seemed destined for the back of the net.
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando leapt and pawed the ball away and over the end line for a Portland corner, preserving the clean sheet and the three points.
Minutes earlier, Rimando had another clutch save, reacting quickly with his foot to deny a low shot from Timbers full back Alvas Powell.
“He’s amazing,” Beckerman said of Rimando’s big night. “I just think it’s normal now. He’s a national team goalkeeper and that’s the type of things that those goalkeepers can do. He was a big part of us getting three points tonight.”
RSL head coach Jeff Cassar also heaped praise on Rimando, saying that the veteran goalkeeper’s saves were “world class.”
Rimando explained that he felt well-rested after taking a couple of weeks to look after a minor injury sustained to his knee while playing with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
“I felt fresh tonight,” Rimando said. “With two weeks taking care of my knee and I just felt good out there. I was up to the task tonight. I had a little luck on my side.”
Luck had nothing to do with Grabavoy’s goal in the 78th minute. The underrated Joliet, Illinois native displayed a bit of brilliance to break the deadlock.
RSL substitute Sebastian Velasquez played a ball to the veteran midfielder who dribbled to the top of Portland’s 18-yard box, hesitated and then lashed a low, left-footed shot towards goal. Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts dove but the ball slipped under his outstretched arm and into the net.
“Plata makes a great run to really take Jewsbury, at that point I have nowhere to basically pass the ball,” Grabavoy said. “So I feel comfortable striking it with my left, probably more than my right so at that point I thought I’d just give it a hit.”
It didn’t take long for the Timbers to respond as they threw attack after attack at RSL’s defense forcing a few spectacular saves from the recently-returned Nick Rimando. The RSL ‘keeper notched four saves on the night and was clearly the reason that RSL was able to walk away from this match with all three points.
The longtime RSL backstop has never won the league’s goalkeeper of the year award but he has emphatically thrown his hat in the ring yet again with another spectacular performance that can only be described as “Rimando-esque.”
RSL’s unbeaten streak is now at seven games, having not lost all season long. The Timbers find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum and will have a hard time digging themselves out of this one when they go on the road to face Houston next week.
RSL, meanwhile, will stay at home to await their matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Watch video highlights of the match below: