(DON RYAN / The Associated Press)
PORTLAND — The start was much better for the Portland Timbers on Saturday.
But that only made the finish much more painful.
Real Salt Lake scored twice in the last four minutes to stun the Timbers and claim a 3-2 win in front of 20,438 fans on a rainy night.
Jonny Steele scored in the 89th minute to tie the score at 2-2, and Kyle Beckerman drove home the winner from outside the penalty area three minutes later.
“Very, very disappointed in the result, not in the performance,” Portland coach John Spencer said. “We dropped our guard and got punished. That’s what good teams do: They punish you.”
The stunning turn of events dropped Portland’s record to one win, one draw and two losses. It spoiled a night that was shaping up to be special for Darlington Nagbe. The second-year player delivered two high-quality goals early in the second half to pull the Timbers from a 1-0 deficit to a 2-1 lead.
Nagbe’s dart from 20 yards screamed along the wet turf and inside the left post for the tying goal less than three minutes after halftime. In the 65th minute, his half-volley whipped from left to right and beat RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
“He’s a game-changer,” said midfielder Eric Alexander, who assisted on both Nagbe goals. “When I get the ball he’s one of the first guys I look for because you saw tonight what he can do with it.”
Instead of riding that momentum to a third goal, the Timbers were on their heels late against a veteran opponent — and paid for it.
The tying goal came after a failed attempt to maintain possession in midfield resulted in a quick sequence up the middle. Steele eluded a couple of defenders’ feet to score the tying goal on a driven shot from just inside the 18-yard box.
In the third minute of extra time, Beckerman drove a 20-yard volley past a diving Troy Perkins, giving Salt Lake an unlikely victory and handing the Timbers the kind of stinging defeat that hampered their playoff push in 2011.
“I think we just need to recognize the moment,” defender Eric Brunner said. “Realize that they’re coming at us with a lot of pressure and just kill (slow down) the game a bit there.”
Spencer agreed that his team didn’t handle Salt Lake’s pressure, dropping into too much of a defensive position that made it difficult for Portland to sustain possession,
“At times we lacked a little bit of leadership and showed a little bit of inexperience when we went 2-1 up,” Spencer said. “It’s just disappointing that we didn’t get (the victory) I think we deserve.”
Brunner had a chance to make the score 3-1 just moments before Salt Lake tied the game but couldn’t get a clean touch on a free kick from near the left post. With the game tied, Franck Songo’o drove a half volley that went right at Rimando.
But, ultimately, it was a series of quality first-half chances that might have written a different story.
For the fourth time in as many games, the Timbers fell behind 1-0. Salt Lake had the only goal of the first half in the 39th minute. Portland’s Rodney Wallace committed a handball just inside of the top of the 18-yard box, and Alvaro Saborio buried the penalty kick.
Unlike the first three matches of this season, the scoreless first half wasn’t for a lack of effort, or a sluggish start. Rimando made a couple of quality saves on shots from Eric Alexander, but the story for Portland in the first 45 minutes was a lack of execution on offense.
Jorge Perlaza, who returned to the starting lineup alongside Kris Boyd missed on two high-quality chances. The biggest miss came in the 32nd minute when, with Rimando out of the play, Perlaza missed a wide-open net. The shot came from a sharp angle just right of the goal, and Perlaza appeared to hurry his shot and found the side netting.
“Goals win games,” Spencer said. “And in these big games you’ve got to capitalize when you get these half chances or full chances.”
Perlaza wasn’t alone when it came to scuffing scoring chances. Poor first touches by Diego Chara took away two potential early scoring chances. Another attack went bad on Chara’s errant pass for Boyd.
Chara and Nagbe flipped positions midway through the first half, with Chara moving to the right side of midfield and Nagbe moving inside.
Nagbe is just the second Timber player to score more than one goal in an MLS game..
REAL SALT LAKE 3, TIMBERS 2
Real Salt Lake 1 2—3
Portland 0 2—2
First half—1, Real Salt Lake, Saborio 1 (penalty kick), 38th minute.
Second half—2, Portland, Nagbe 2 (Alexander), 49th. 3, Portland, Nagbe 3 (Alexander), 66th. 4, Real Salt Lake, Steele 1 (Johnson), 89th. 5, Real Salt Lake, Beckerman 1 (Saborio), 90th+.
Goalies—Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando; Portland, Troy Perkins.
Yellow Cards—Brunner, Portland, 32nd; Marcelin, Portland, 86th; Beckerman, Real Salt Lake, 90th+.
Real Salt Lake—Nick Rimando, Jamison Olave, Tony Beltran (Jonny Steele, 78th), Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil (Will Johnson, 59th), Kyle Beckerman, Paulo Junior (Fabian Espindola, 70th), Alvaro Saborio.
Portland—Troy Perkins, Eric Brunner, Rodney Wallace, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Eric Alexander, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara (James Marcelin, 75th), Lovel Palmer, Jack Jewsbury, Jorge Perlaza (Franck Songo’o, 65th), Kris Boyd.