SANDY, Utah — One year after making an early playoff exit while struggling to score as the season wound down, it's a much different story for Real Salt Lake this time.
Robbie Findley scored the go-ahead goal in the first half and had an assist in the second half, leading Real Salt Lake to a 4-2 victory over the Portland Timbers in the first leg of the Western Conference finals on Sunday night.
Chris Schuler, Devon Sandoval and Javier Morales also scored for Salt Lake, which will take a two-goal advantage into the second leg of the series on Nov. 24. Salt Lake scored three goals in a 13-minute stretch starting with Schuler's tally in the 35th that tied it 1-1.
"There's a lot of guys on the team willing to work," Findley said. "They put the work in early and it showed tonight. We were able to put some goals in the back of the net."
The most impressive part of the scoring flurry for Salt Lake is that it happened without leading scorer Alvaro Saborio, who sat out after sustaining a right hip flexor injury.
"It says we're a deep team," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "It says we have a ton of guys who have contributed this year in really meaningful matches and in really meaningful ways. That puts us in a place now where we haven't been typically. We can plug and play."
Salt Lake extended its unbeaten streak over Portland to nine games. The Timbers have not beaten RSL since the first meeting in the series on April 30, 2011.
The Timbers' loss snapped a 10 game unbeaten streak, stretching back to a 4-2 loss to Salt Lake on Aug. 30.
"It's not the end of the world," Johnson said. "We'll be OK. We got to fix some things. It is what it is. We're two goals down, but we're not out of it yet. We'll fight for 90 minutes."
On Johnson's opening goal, the Timbers' midfielder sent a free kick over the defensive wall and threaded the ball inside the far post, denying Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando any chance to get to it in time.
Schuler tied it 21 minutes later as Morales lobbed a corner kick high into the air toward the defender. Schuler outjumped everyone around him to snag the ball and headed it past Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
A defensive mistake helped Salt Lake take the lead in the 41st. Mamadou Danso made an errant back pass under pressure from Findley and the ball squirted loose. Findley sprinted past Danso to collect the ball and easily flicked it around Ricketts as he came off the line.
In the second half, Findley latched onto a through ball and sent a cross into Sandoval, who quickly put it home for his first career playoff goal in the 48th.
Morales made it 4-1 in the 82nd. Ricketts made an impressive save moments earlier, leaping in the air and denying a header from Luis Gil at the far post. It led to a corner kick and Joao Plata fed the ball to Morales on a run to the far post. He lunged forward and headed the ball past Ricketts in the middle of the net.
We got punished in certain circumstances," Portland defender Jack Jewsbury said. "They're a very good team. If you're not on your game, they're going to punish you."