On Friday, Real Salt Lake met with one of the most virile attacking sides in MLS. Portland Timbers, by some magic of fate, were set outside the playoffs and very much looking -- gazing, even -- inside.
And such was it that out encounter saw us in a retreated state, taking much of the second half as an opportunity to exercise defensive stability without worrying much about chance-creation or anything of the sort. To some, this was surely a stress-laden sticking point.
Understandably so--it was as back-and-forth as you might suspect. And by back-and-forth, I don't much mean we traded attacking moments. More, it was that we pushed then retreated repeatedly. Some of that is surely attributable to the confluence of good pressure from Portland and a dismal ability from RSL to maintain possession in the final third, or to create good chances instead of thrusting the ball to the opposition. It was hardly as efficient a performance as we'd have wanted, of course.
We afforded Portland several opportunities, and but for the wonder that is Nick Rimando, we'd have been not just put to the sword, but wounded by it. We may have sunk to fourth place in the Western Conference without much hope of recovery by that draw, but more important than at is that we had a chance to gain some vital defensive confidence by the event.
This is something with which we have obviously struggled this season. We've had only a handful of shutouts, and our goal difference is poor, considering our lot. Heading into the playoffs, it's important that we have a strong defensive posture available to us. When our attacking goes wrong -- and that's something that can certainly happen -- we need to have that ability within our grasp.
After our last two matches, it's finally appearing more and more that's the case. But let us take a moment to praise Nick Rimando again. Without his reflexes, we'd be wallowing in sorrow today. Instead, we can hold our head up and reflect on our defensive abilities. If that's not reassuring, then I strongly suspect nothing is.