Real Monarchs SLC and fans enjoyed a bright sunny afternoon in Rio Tinto with the Easter Bunny delivering two early presents that allowed them to pull out to an early lead and drift home to a 4-2 victory a little over 80 minutes later.
In the third minute of play, Pablo Ruiz, the young 19-year-old Argentine signed by RSL in the off-season, moved out to take the first corner kick of the match. He shaped a wonderful cross to the front side of the box that allowed Nick Besler to burst through the pack in front of goal and slide a header across goal into the far corner for a very early 1-0 lead.
Less than four minutes later, Justin Portillo stepped up to take a corner from the opposite side and lofted a higher ball to the back side of goal that Kalen Ryden run up onto and headed high in the nearby corner for a 2-0 lead in just seven minutes
The crowd was rocking, the squad was pumped and as a very small and young female fan bouncing near me clearly articulated: “Red is winning! I really like red!”
The Monarchs continued to press hard the first thirty minutes of the match although Timbers 2 maintained focus and effort as both sides seemed to struggle to find any cohesion or flow in open play.
The Monarchs found their reward as Modou Jadma took down Sabastian Velaquez in a one-on-one confrontation earning a well-deserved, but vital, a yellow card. Justin Portillo stepped up again to take the subsequent free kick from about 35 yards out on the right. His long sailing ball allowed Kalen Ryden to cleanly run under it through the continued terrible marking by Timbers 2 and it was 3-0.
Portland, however, was the next to strike, as they continued to press strongly and look to quickly counter. Three minutes later a quick counter and a nice crossfrom deep in the left corner found several unmarked Timbers in the box. Although Andrew Putna made a nice save on a point blank header by Jeremy Ebobisse, the rebound went right back to Ebobisse’s feet and he calmly lifted it over a sprawling Putna to put Portland on the board and make it 3-1.
This scoreline remained until halftime although it seemed that the Timbers found new life with finally finding the net. Both sides came back onto the field lively and a frenetic pace with little actual ball control result in several good chances for both sides including another untouched header by Michael Gallagher off a free kick which was parried by the Timbers’ goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh.
The Timbers were next to score as they finally got their quick counter to connect springing Victor Arboleda free in on Puta who came out of his box. Arboleda calmly went around him and tapped the ball into an empty net and the score was 3-2 and all the momentum seemed to be with Portland.
Portland continued to press for the equalizer as both sides continued to make connections in open play. Fortunately Sebastian Velasquez put on a great display of personal ball control and moved to the left around two Timbers 2 defenders and uncorked a hot shot shot from close in past McIntosh and take the air out of the match in the 66th minutes.
A full set of substitutions by both the Monarchs and Timbers 2 failed to bring the tempo back up to that seen earlier in the match and play became rather stately and pedestrian for the remainder of the match,
In his post-game briefing Coach Mark Briggs acknowledged this stating: “Obviously we went 3 goals up and I think you can see with young players you start to get a little bit complacent. I think we made the game a lot more complicated and a lot harder than it should have been. The boys have done well, played two games, got six points and you have to remember it’s only the second game, so there’s a lot to improve on but you know, I think a little bit of complacency set in to be totally honest.”
Kalen Ryder, signed only three weeks ago, was named Man of the Match for his two goals and several other good looks. He acknowledged the importance of set pieces in the match and added: “We worked a lot on set pieces the last couple days, just really getting our runs down, the type of ball into the box, and I think we executed it perfectly today.”
The Monarchs travel to Scottsdale, Arizona next week to meet Western Conference leaders Phoenix Rising. As Coach Briggs added: “Coming up against Phoenix, I think they’ve probably been one of the most impressive teams in the first two games so far. It’s definitely going to be a hard game, it’s a hard place to go, they get a good atmosphere a good crowd, and the fans get behind them. It will be interesting to see how we adapt to that. But I think the positives for us are that we scored 3 goals away from home last week, we score 4 goals today, so we are definitely exciting going forward. I think we have to work on the other side of ball and making sure we keep the balls out of our own net. It’s a positive that we scored the amount of goals that we have, but again we could have had double the goals that we had to be honest and with a little more concentration we would have. So there’s a number of positives and I’m extremely happy after two games, but there is an awful lot of work for us to do and Phoenix will be hard test next week.”