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Real Salt Lake strikes late twice to rally for improbable 4-4 draw at Portland



SALT LAKE CITY — One of the most memorable weeks in Real Salt Lake history — all related to off-the-field issues — ended in one of the most memorable finishes in recent memory.

Second-half substitutes Giuseppe Rossi and Sam Johnson scored goals in the 90th and then 94th minute respectively as RSL rallied for an improbable 4-4 draw against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park.

“To be honest, we gave away some goals today, but we never gave up and there was always a belief that we could come from behind, and Rossi and Sam came in and made a difference … it showed the team unity to fight for a result,” said RSL coach Freddy Juarez, whose team rallied to tie the score on three different occasions.

“The good thing is we’re scoring some goals, and better than any of that is the team spirit is good right now. That’s what you need in these tough times.”

RSL bossed the game all night, tying a club-record 29 shots and enjoying a 59-41 percent edge in possession, as it scored four goals for the second straight game. Corey Baird, who finished with a goal and then assisted on both late lates, attributes the efficiency in the attack to hard work and simple spacing.

“We got our spacing down really well, guys were also clean on the ball. When your spacing is good, people are finding the right pockets, making the right decisions, clean with their touches, possession, it looks easy, but it’s all those little things going right and I think we’re doing all those little things on and off the ball with our movements. Really, it all added up to a collective performance that you saw tonight,” said Baird.

With everything the players had to deal with emotionally this week, it was perhaps a fitting end to steal road points late.

From the decision to boycott Wednesday’s home match against Los Angeles FC to the drama that unfolded the next day with owner Dell Loy Hansen — which ended in a voluntary leave of absence by Hansen while MLS investigates some alleged racially-charged comments — it likely felt great for RSL to simply play soccer on Saturday.

With the late draw, RSL moved into sole possession of fifth place in the Western Conference, just one point out of second place.

It will be back in action next Wednesday with its long-awaited return to Rio Tinto Stadium against the Seattle Sounders — where up to 5,000 fans hope to see the first MLS match in the building for the first time in 179 days.

Portland opened the scoring on Saturday just six minutes into the match on a terrible decision from Andrew Putna in an attempt to play out of the back with possession. Instead of clearing the ball away, he elected to play it simple to Pablo Ruiz at the top of the box, but the ball never got to Ruiz. Diego Chara stepped in front of him to steal the ball and then easily dribbled around Putna for the tap-in goal.

“We make a mistake in the back building out, that’s very simple for them,” said Juarez.

RSL equalized in the 19th minute as Corey Baird buried a failed clearance from Portland leveling at 1-1. Baird said it was an opportunistic finish as the attack came up the other side of the field.

In the 21st minute, Portland again found itself back in front as Jaroslaw Niezgoda headed in a Diego Valeri corner kick.

The Timbers maintained the 2-1 lead into halftime, but Real Salt Lake was realistically the better team in the opening half as it dominated possession and recorded a club-record 18 shots in the first half.

A big reason why was the winger play of Justin Meram and Maikel Chang, as they were rewarded with another start after their strong performance in Colorado the week before.

Just three minutes into the second half, Real Salt Lake leveled the score again as Damir Kreilach scored another “Karate Kid” style goal from close range on a deflected corner kick.

In the 66th minute, coach Freddy Juarez inserted Everton Luiz into the match for Meram to help lock things down defensively.

It didn’t work out quite that way though as Portland regained the lead in the 70th minute with Sebastian Blanco curling a shot in from outside the box after nobody closed him down on a run up the right wing.

In the 85th minute Felipe Mora seemingly put the game out of reach as he put Portland ahead 4-2 just seconds after Nedum Onuoha hit the post on a corner kick. The Timbers countered quickly after the near miss, and Mora was able to capitalize on a slip by Luiz as he had a 1v1 chance with Onuoha and then slipped his shot near post past Putna.

Real Salt Lake didn’t quit though, as Rossi’s 90th-minute goal — his first with the club — then Johnson’s goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time helped RSL earn its fourth draw of the season and improve its record to 2-1-4.

“There’s a lot positives to take out from tonight’s game, but on the other side there’s a lot of stuff that we have to learn from, especially the first goal — and kind of all of them. They were cheap goals to concede and in order for us to come away with a win in a tough place like Portland we have to limit those mistakes,” said Albert Rusnak.

“On the other side, the fight we showed at the end, and to score two late goals like that, it shows there is a lot of quality in this group and we played together and I think we played a very good game.”

The build up to the equalizer by Johnson was a thing of beauty from Baird. In his dribbling run into the box, he got around Cristhian Paredes — twice — with Chara in between, before a subtle pass to Johnson in traffic. Johnson took one touch, and then rotate his hips quickly to power a shot into the upper corner of the net.

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