Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

The Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake have played a number of entertaining matches through the years, and, by and large, those matches have been contested cleanly, skillfully, and evenly.

Not so on Saturday night at Providence Park. The third game of the MLS season for both the Timbers and Salt Lake started red hot and only get redder and hotter. By the end of the evening, RSL had nine players on the field, the Timbers had fired in 26 shots and seventeen corner kicks, and Nick Rimando had come up with another superb save to preserve a point for his team in Portland.

The Timbers' response to their first true fight of 2016 was satisfactory enough. Thanks in large part to RSL's gift of rash indiscipline, the game finished 2-2—and from the early hole to the late fight, it had the outline of a saga all-too-familiar to Caleb Porter's team.

For March, it was a game played an unusual amount of vinegar—and it suggested once again that the Timbers are much more an unfinished product than they appeared just a few weeks ago.

The signs that this was going to be a memorable game came early and often. The Timbers—debuting their new red secondary jerseys—had the ball in the net less than a minute into the game, but Fanendo Adi's header was ruled out for offside.

Portland continued to press, but it was Real Salt Lake who would convert their first real opportunity of the game after ten minutes when Joao Plata's free-kick caught Adam Kwarasey leaning hard to his right in anticipation of a Javier Morales curler.

It was a bad moment from the Ghanian, who has the ignominious distinction of giving up the most goals from outside the box of any goalkeeper in MLS since his arrival in Portland last year. Had Kwarasey stayed honest, he would most likely have made a comfortable save.

Instead, Salt Lake had a lead that, for the most part, knocked the wind out of the Timbers' sails. But the game would explode again just after the half hour mark when Salt Lake skipper Kyle Beckerman—a prickly presence all night—lost the ball, went scything through the prone Fanendo Adi, and was promptly sent off.

But RSL was surprisingly adroit with a man disadvantage. While the Timbers poked and pried, they created precious few big chances—and it was in that climate that Yura Movsisyan took advantage of a misplayed header by Nat Borchers, raced in on goal, and doubled Salt Lake's advantage.

That sent Porter to his bench in a decisive way. The Timbers brought Jack McInerney and former RSL standby Ned Grabavoy, moving to a 3-5-2 that would, by the end of the night, turn into a 3-1-3-3. In the 80th minute, the Timbers pressure would finally tell when a Dairon Asprilla fizzler hit the bar and was followed in by Adi.

Three minutes later, Salt Lake took a gun to its foot once again, when, away from the ball, Jamison Olave took a swing at Fanendo Adi's face. Adi predictably crumpled, and Hilario Grajeda's response was to point to the spot and show Olave the red card.

Adi slid the resulting penalty down the middle with considerable poise, and the Timbers were level. But Rimando—the Timbers Army's favorite opposing player, and a man who hadn't given up a goal at Providence Park since the John Spencer era—had a last big moment in him. His late point-blank save on a golden McInerney chance ensured that the teams would share the spoils.

The match was many things, but first and foremost, it was a spectacle all the way. In the hands of a less competent match official than Grajeda, it could have gotten extremely ugly.

Even with Grajeda at the controls, it wasn't pretty. Stapled around the red cards were a series of bad moments—rampant RSL time-wasting, Adi going clattering into Rimando, and Juan Manuel Martinez knocking Nagbe out of the game late with a hideous tackle.

Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

The Timbers came out looking for a game. Salt Lake came out looking for a fight. We ended up getting both.

For their part, RSL is well on its way to losing all of the respect it curried through its superior football during the heady days of the Jason Kreis era. Saturday's events were nothing new. Salt Lake has trended increasingly ill-tempered, antagonistic, and unnecessarily reckless over the last year.

And that's a shame, because this team can flat out play. Movsisyan is a bear—his dominance of Jermaine Taylor was one of the major reasons RSL was so comfortable for sixty minutes—while the likes of Martinez, Morales, and Plata are fantastic. There was a time when Porter relished these games. Not now.

But whether or not they care about their image, Salt Lake will certainly care about dropping points—and make no mistake, this was a game they should have won.

The Timbers prodded much, but created little. They were feckless on their many corner kicks—thanks in no small part to a spotty performance from Diego Valeri—and unable to threaten from wide positions where the quartet of Alvas Powell, Dairon Asprilla, Zarek Valentin, and Lucas Melano had little impact.

Portland got their point, but they got plenty of help along the way. The truth is that going back to the Simple Invitational, the Timbers have one good performance against MLS competition this year. It was the only match which Liam Ridgewell started—the 2-1 win on Opening Day against Columbus.

Right now, this team is distinctly average defensively. Offensively, the Timbers can hurt you one way: right through the center of the field.

Against an excellent defensive midfielder like RSL's Sonny, they're handleable. The attack needs to be diversified, which is why Darren Mattocks, who made his debut in the final moments on Saturday night, is going to be a bigger piece than people think he will be. Jack Barmby is going to be useful as well.

The game in San Jose last weekend, as well as this match, were reminders that it is much easier to lose your equilibrium as a club than it is to find or sustain it.

The Timbers are going to have to build something new this year. The offseason chipped away the machine that was the late-2015 team—whose run started in Salt Lake last October, in a game the washed-up Olave was also sent off in—and injuries have chipped away at it further.

Portland still has heart. That much is clear. This team, especially at home, never says die. But until the Timbers figure out who they are going to be this year, we're going to see more performances like Saturday's: Passable, but little more.