On a wild night full of unexpected goals, refereeing blunders, and intra-club controversy, the Portland Timbers found a way to lose to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.
Things started off swimmingly for Portland. In the eighth minute Sal Zizzo collected a nice long ball from Kosuke Kimura on the right wing. After taking the ball into the box and stepping over a couple times, Zizzo sent a well-placed low cross to Bright Dike who chipped past Bill Gaudette.
Despite yielding a fair amount of possession, Portland was by far the more dangerous team for the next twenty minutes. The Timbers’ danger came to a head in the thirty-second minute when Franck Songo’o corralled a ball on the left wing, came into the corner of the box, and laid it off across the box for Zizzo. The suddenly on top-form winger found Darlington Nagbe on a perfectly timed run through the Red Bulls defense, who tapped inside the far post.
After a season and two-thirds of away ineptitude, this looked for a moment like it may just be the Timbers’ coming out party.
New York would begin the task of dismantling that in the forty-second minute. After Songo’o lost his mark on the Red Bulls’ right wing, Jan Gunnar Solli crossed to an unmarked Kenny Cooper in the box for an easy headed finish.
Things got worse – and stranger – two minutes later. After David Horst deflected a Dax McCarty shot from twenty-five yards, Jason Anno, the referee, blew his whistle to signal what would have been an awful penalty call for handball. Simultaneously, however, the rebound bounced straight to Tim Cahill who cracked into goal from the top of the box. Anno, having blown his whistle as the ball was struck and rushing toward the spot to signal a penalty, changed his mind, allowed the goal, and lumbered his way back to the center circle.
After the match, Anno claimed only to have blown his whistle to signal a goal, despite the fact the whistle sounded well before the ball went in. In the end, even if the referee doesn’t change his mind after blowing the whistle, the result would have been an improperly awarded penalty that likely would have been converted. Thus, Anno’s error – albeit embarrassing and inexcusable – was likely harmless to the end result.
Nagbe nearly put Portland back in the lead a minute later when he collected a Songo’o ball on the run, but his crack from distance sailed just high.
After giving up two goals in quick succession once again, it wasn’t unreasonable to think the Timbers would come out in the second half and flop. On Sunday, however, this team was full of surprises.
The Timbers avoided a will-killing concession in the 52nd minute when Donovan Ricketts did well to kick save a Thierry Henry header, then did extraordinarily to block Sebastien Le Toux’s put back from the ground.
From there, however, the Timbers would again become the more dangerous side. After a brilliant ball forward from Steven Smith, Songo’o found himself in space on the left wing. Franck sent a centering ball toward Nagbe with room at the top of the box, but Nagbe’s soft shot was saved by a diving Gaudette.
Five minutes later, in the sixty-sixth minute, Gaudette again came to the Red Bulls rescue. This time, Diego Chara – who had been dominant in the center of the midfield – sent a magnificent ball through to a free Zizzo. Gaudette cut down the angle on Sal, however, and blocked a surely goal-bound effort.
Four minutes later, Nagbe would spring Chara with another extraordinary through ball, but the ball got caught up in the clearly uncomfortable Chara’s feet a little bit, allowing Gaudette to make another one-v-one save.
In the eighty-second minute, the Red Bulls would make Portland pay for failing to finish their opportunities. After an Henry corner was partially cleared, Solli gained control on the Red Bulls’ right wing. The Timbers did a poor job of reattaching to their marks, and Solli found an unmarked Heath Pearce in the box to nod past Ricketts.
The Timbers would have a great chance at an equalizer, however. After Smith got loose on the left wing in the ninety-fourth minute, he sent a fantastic ball that picked Rodney Wallace out in the middle of the box. Wallace’s unmarked header in the face of goal, however, sailed well wide.
Like Wednesday’s fixture at Toronto, the match leaves Timbers fans searching for the proper response. The result was the Timbers to take, and somehow they booted it away. But, unlike so many recent away matches, the Timbers had the opportunity to take this one. That, in and of itself, marks some progress. But still, not enough.
- First, about Anno. It’s one thing to blow a call like that. If he had copped to it when asked about it after the match, I would easily forget about it. But he didn’t. Instead he lied. Anno said afterward that he blew the whistle to signal a goal, despite the overwhelming video evidence to the contrary. This is actually the second time this season a referee has blown a call in a Timbers game and lied about it afterward. Against Vancouver in May, Jorge Gonzalez claimed to have an obstructed view of Jay DeMerit’s tackle on Kalif Alhassan when, in fact, he had a perfect view (fn. 2). Somebody needs to make noise about the lack of professionalism among the referees. It’s one thing to be bad at your job. It’s another thing to then lie about it.
- Don’t forget about Eric Brunner. While there have been repeated mistakes in the center of defense by the Timbers in the last couple weeks, Brunner should be working his way back to fitness within the next couple weeks. While Eric isn’t the cure to everything that ails the Timbers, he has been a very consistent presence in central defense when healthy.
- With Kimura out for the foreseeable future with a broken nose and concussion and Diego Chara suspended against Vancouver, it will be interesting to see what Gavin rolls out in his XI next week. In my view, Jack Jewsbury is the more reliable duct tape at right back, but that inevitably brings Lovel Palmer back into the central midfield – causing a relapse of PTSD symptoms for Timbers supporters caused by Beckham’s first goal at Jeld-Wen Field. If Jewsbury does move, the Timbers will have a shortage of competent central midfielders. In that instance it will be interesting to see if Gavin moves to a more traditional 4-4-2 (or some variation thereof), or if he tries out somebody like Eric Alexander, Franck Songo’o, or Kalif Alhassan in an attacking central role for likely the remainder of the season.
- Finally, don’t let all the drama drown out the fact that the Timbers are progressing. If the Timbers play at New York three weeks ago it’s likely a bloodbath. Now, the Timbers have strung together a series of games where there has been continuity in the midfield which – in the last two games – has led to goals. If Portland can get the defense back afloat, a Cascadia Cup is very much within reach.
Donovan Ricketts, 5 – Nothing he could do on the first or second concessions. On the second, he was only out of position because he dove to save McCarty’s first shot. His two saves in the fifty-second minute were maybe the best goalkeeping sequence we’ve seen from a Timbers keeper this year. Unfortunately, the third concession was saveable, which significantly deflates his grade.
Steven Smith, 6 – His mark was loose on the third concession – although, whose wasn’t – but otherwise had a good outing. Combined with Songo’o nicely and delivered a beautiful ball to Wallace for what should have been an equalizer in second half stoppage.
David Horst, 3 – Had his paws all over the first concession, as he chose to mark grass instead of Kenny Cooper. Then he let Henry get on the end of a cross only to be bailed out by Ricketts’ saves. Not Horst’s best outing.
Hanyer Mosquera, 5 – His rating takes a little collateral damage from the defensive lapses, even though Mosco wasn’t directly responsible for any of them. Otherwise he would have been a little higher, as Mosco had a decent night himself.
Kosuke Kimura, 7 – Maybe Kimura’s best game as a Timber. Had several nice tackles defensively, and – more importantly – sprung Zizzo on the right wing multiple times. Cahill should be suspended three games for his elbow to Kosuke’s face. It wasn’t as malicious as Mosco’s punch earlier this year, but it looked at least reckless, if not intentional, on the broadcast replay and may have cost Kimura the rest of the season with a broken nose.
Jack Jewsbury, 5.5 – Another solid night for Jack. Nagbe and Chara did most of the playmaking in the central midfield, but Jack was one of the Timbers’ most consistent defenders on the evening.
Darlington Nagbe, 6 – Had a nicely taken goal, and it was a result of Darlington finding his confidence in making the runs you want to see from an attacking central midfielder. I’m reluctant to pose this question, because we’ve been here before, but is Darlington starting to live up to his potential? He did this week.
Diego Chara, 6 – This would have been much higher but for two crucial moments in the second half. The first, obviously, was when he failed to finish a golden opportunity to score the go-ahead goal in a one-on-one situation with Gaudette. The second was when he picked up a yellow card very late for clipping Kenny Cooper from behind. Otherwise, Chara was dominant in the midfield and dynamic is springing the attack.
Franck Songo’o, 5 – Had another strong offensive showing against New York, but was partially culpable for losing Solli on the first concession. Also, PTFC has to get Franck’s fitness to a place where he can go a full 90. Despite making 12 starts, he has only played the full 90 twice. He’s too important to this team now to require a substitute.
Bright Dike, 6 – Nicely finished goal off of a perfect cross from Sal. Dike was being disruptive with his runs, but also got the Timbers in trouble a little bit with his passing and technical shortcomings. Basically, that’s Bright. Still, you take the good with the bad with Dike, and on Sunday the good came out on top.
Sal Zizzo, 8 – What a week! After being lost in the muddled midfield for most of the season, Zizzo contributes a goal against Toronto and two assists against New York. If he can keep up anything close to this form, Sal will consistently find a featured role in the XI.
Mike Fucito, 4 – Came on against Toronto and made a difference. Came on against New York and disappeared. Considering his performance against TFC, you can’t fault Wilkinson for this substitution.
Lovel Palmer, 5 – He was fine. I’m trying to talk myself into accepting the reality that he’s probably going to be a frequent fixture in the lineup as long as Kimura is out.
Rodney Wallace, 3 – Now this substitution you can fault Wilkinson for. Songo’o had to come off, but why Wallace instead of Eric Alexander? EA had a really nice appearance against TFC, provides more defense than Songo’o, but is still useful in the attack – which would have been nice considering the match was tied and the Timbers were making some offensive hay. Rod repaid his coach’s faith by very casually closing out Solli on the third concession and making a mess of Steven Smith’s silver platter service in stoppage time.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 2, Red Bulls 1. Perlaza, Alexander.
Actual Result: Red Bulls 3, Timbers 2. Dike, Nagbe.
Onward, Rose City!
 It’s unclear from the replay whether the ball hit Horst in the chest or the arm. Horst’s arm, however, was in a natural position, so even if the ball was technically handled, it would have been an incidental handball for which no penalty should be given. What’s worse, the referee’s view of any potential handball was obscured by Sal Zizzo, so the aborted call was nothing but a guess.
 Look, Diego’s just not a finisher.
 He might already be there if MLS had a legitimate reserve league that didn’t have inexplicable month-long breaks.
 I haven’t been able to find a replay since watching the match live, so my initial impression about intent could be wrong. Cynically, I doubt the Disciplinary Committee will do anything about it. He’s a big star that plays for the Red Bulls. It was just enough in the run of play that the Committee will probably issue a verdict of “boys will be boys.”
 I have to reluctantly admit that this was the right call. Diego clipped Cooper when Kenny was on the break. It was exactly the type of technical foul that deserves yellow.