Three thoughts on Salt Lake's 4-2 victory over Portland in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference finals on Sunday.
Salt Lake has erased its big-game-chokers-at-home rep - Just three days ago, we were talking about Salt Lake's inability to win big games at home. That discussion is in the past. After dethroning the two-time defending champion L.A. Galaxy on Thursday, Salt Lake didn't skip a beat Sunday, throttling a Portland team that hadn't lost in 10 games. Javier Morales was terrific in the RSL midfield, and Robbie Findley turned back the clock to 2009, unsettling Portland's back line with pressure and poise in scoring a goal and assisting on Devon Sandoval's. Salt Lake kept things tight in the back, and Chris Schuler scored his second set-piece goal of the playoffs to confirm that he's in the best form of his career. Only conceding a late goal to Portland's Freddie Piquionne kept this night from being close to perfect for the home team.
Portland now has to make up two goals thanks to its back line. - It's not like Caleb Porter's team totally needed to shut up shop after Will Johnson's knuckling free kick put Portland ahead in the first half, but a little defensive fortitude would have helped matters. Instead, Futty Danso gifted a goal to Findley, and the centerbacks got split open on the Salt Lake counter early in the second half. It was a grim reminder of Portland's last loss, also a 4-2 smackdown by RSL. That said, it's hardly beyond the realm of possibility that Portland could come back from a two-goal deficit after Piquionne's late lifeline strike. On one of the last plays of the game, his looping header off a Jack Jewsbury cross gave Portland hope and set up a mouth-watering return leg in two weeks. Wait, two weeks? - The MLS playoff schedule has been nothing short of a disaster, packing far too many games into the past 10 days and now taking off two weeks due to the international window. It's bad for casual fans and hardcore fans alike, and the league simply has to do better when it comes to scheduling its showcase event. Maybe that means scheduling more midweek games earlier in the regular season. Maybe that means cutting a few regular-season games. Maybe that means playing even deeper into December. There are no easy solutions, that's true, but man, these two weeks are going to be a long wait, followed by two more weeks until the final on Dec. 7.