Real Salt Lake remained perfect on the road two games into the 2012 MLS campaign, overcoming a pair of spectacular long-range goals from Portland Timbers sensation Darlington Nagbe early in the second half to emerge victorious via a 3-2 win. The dramatic come-from-behind road victory was fueled by all three of Jason Kreis’ substitutes, as veteran MF Will Johnson set up the 89th-minute equalizer from RSL newcomer MF Jonny Steele, before FW Fabian Espíndola – who did not start for the first time since Sept. 24 at D.C. last year – scooped a ball from the deep corner back to an onrushing MF Kyle Beckerman, the RSL captain burying the game-winner at the game’s death to seal the three points.
The victory, combined with home losses for Western Conference rivals Los Angeles Galaxy (1-3 to New England) and Seattle Sounders FC (0-1 to Seattle), moved Real Salt Lake (3-1-0, 9 points) atop the West alongside the San Jose Earthquakes (also 3-1-0) just four games into the 34-game MLS regular season.
With both MF Javier Morales and FW Álvaro Saborío earning their first starting nods of 2012, RSL was able to amass a commanding 61-39 edge in possession percentage for the second consecutive week. Unlike last week’s 0-1 home loss to Chivas USA, however, RSL finished its chances, seizing a 1-0 lead in the 39thminute courtesy of a penalty-kick conversion by Saborío, following a handball in the box by the Timbers’ Rodney Wallace.
The 1-0 halftime advantage was short-lived, however, as Portland’s second-year star Nagbe pulled the trigger from distance in the 48’ from 20 yards out, a low screamer blazing past a shielded RSL GK Nick Rimando. Just 17 minutes later, Nagbe struck again, hitting a ball from just inside the corner of the penalty box over Rimando and just under the bar to give the 20,438 Timbers faithful reason to celebrate.
Veteran RSL defender Nat Borchers also made his 2012 debut, starting alongside fellow MLS Best XI-caliber centerback Jamison Olave for the first time since the team’s 3-0 home win over Seattle in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals last October. Borchers went a full 90 in his debut, while Morales and Saborío also went 90 for the first time this season.
Real Salt Lake Match Notes
• The win for Real Salt Lake was just its fourth across all competitions on artificial turf (4-13-8) in the team’s eight-season history (the team’s MLS Cup 2009 win at Qwest Field in Seattle is officially a tie).
• After using the same XI in back-to-back-to-back games for first time in 122 games during RSL’s opening three games, Head Coach Jason Kreis trotted out three new starters – Borchers, Morales and Saborío – for the first time in 2012.
• Another player returning from injury tonight was MF Will Johnson, available for selection for the first time this season. The veteran left-sided engine also featured prominently in the midweek Reserve League game, playing 73 minutes against the Chicago Fire Reserves on Tuesday.
• After making his RSL / MLS debut on March 17 against New York with a six-minute cameo, MF Jonny Steele saw his minutes increase with last week’s 19-minute appearance before coming on for the final 11 minutes in place of DF Tony Beltran, scoring his first MLS goal with the 89’ equalizer.