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Monday, May 30, 2011

United Show Not All Is Perfect On Portland's Homefront

Posted by Brian Gjurgevich on Mon, May 30, 2011 at 4:17 PM

An unfamiliar sight: Portland players react to their first MLS home loss of the season.

When do you ever see an assistant referee take center stage and make back-to-back, identical game-changing calls? And how often does a team's top scorer, its captain and its coach become embroiled in an on-field spat in front of the home faithful? And when are three goals ever scored in the last 15 minutes ... of a soccer match?

It all happened Sunday afternoon in the Timbers' most dramatic performance of the season, but it led to Portland's first MLS home loss, as DC United added a blemish to the House of Pane's MLS record with a wild 3-2 victory that had Kenny Cooper apologizing and the Timbers Army suddenly considering sobriety.

Portland's no longer perfect at home after the Timbers allowed an early goal, didn't execute on their strengths and couldn't overcome the emotion of two freak calls late in the match. Cooper lost his head a bit during a penalty-kick scenario that was definitely the most bizarre sub-plot to play out on the pitch for Portland this season, and DC won the match because they reacted better to the drama and scored twice down the stretch to steal a victory from the Timbers.

Portland's post-match reaction-to-its-reaction, however, was perfectly executed: Cooper apologized up and down ("I should've shown more respect to my captain and my coach," he said), Jewsbury defended his teammate/locker-room neighbor and Spencer summed it all up in the first words of his press conference: “We got out of the game what we thoroughly deserved — zero points."

Much, much more on the Timbers' tepid opening, the match's dramatic climax and the wacky third act, along with Spencer's full post-match presser after the jump, plus video highlights of the match and EXTRA TIME links to help you tamp up the drama.

The flawless MLS home run had to end sometime, and from early on in the match, Sunday felt like it'd be the day. The Timbers came out flat and gave up an early goal (13th minute to Perry Kitchen, the first of his career), putting Portland behind in an MLS game at JW-F for the first time all season. Spencer obviously didn't like his club's body language, and minutes later the coach warmed up his reserves on the sideline to give his starters a visual whip to their shape. But the confident, attacking team that skipped the opening ticks definitely wasn't there for the remainder of the first half, and Portland didn't take its first shot until the 40th minute.

Portland showed its usual home form in the second half until the 64th minute, when the match was suddenly thrown off its axis by an assistant referee: When Cooper earned a penalty kick after being fouled in the box, and it looked as though the Timbers' big forward would finally put one on the scoreboard after being called offside twice on disallowed goals earlier in the match.

Cooper's first try went left and was knocked back by DC keeper Bill Hamid, but assistant ref Eric Proctor (correctly but bravely) called Hamid for a technicality (being off the goal-line when Cooper struck the ball) and handed Portland another try. Cooper's second try went right and again Hamid stoned him, BUT AGAIN Proctor raised his flag and (even more correctly and even more bravely—did you see Proctor deftly walking backwards away from an enraged Hamid?) made the exact same call.

Hamid came off his line again, drawn in by Cooper's awkward stutter-step approach. Twice. And Spencer had seen enough: He called for Jewsbury to take the third kick, putting the off-field Dr. Jekyll in Cooper into full Hyde-mode.

I understand where Cooper's emotion came from in the situation: After all, it wasn't as if he was legally denied twice in a row by Hamid. But Spencer saw that Cooper and Hamid were locked in a mental match more epic than any rock-paper-scissors-best-of-three-finale you've ever seen, and the only move Spencer could make to get an advantage over DC is bringing on Capt. Jack, which completely flips the script on Hamid. And it worked, as Jewsbury calmly buried the PK and put Portland on the board.

Spencer then pulled Cooper from the match for Ryan Pore quickly after the situation diffused, both because his big forward's confidence might have been shaken but mainly because Spencer thought Cooper might need time on the pine to think over whether it was a good idea to go all Jersey Shore on his captain and coach.

The rest of the match rode on emotions, and while the United played with fury, Portland returned to flat. The Timbers gave up a goal in the 75th on a Chris Pontius PK brought on by a Diego Chará handball, and another 10 minutes later on a defensive lapse that gave Josh Wolff an easy chip into the net.

Many thought the match would hinge on set-pieces, and that certainly played a part. Portland did score one of its goals on a Jeremy Hall throw-in to Jorge Perlaza in the 88th minute, but overall, DC shut down Portland's plans by getting in Jewsbury's grill during service and marking Portland's tallest defenders and biggest headers, Futty and Eric Brunner.

Timbers fans were again dynamic as ever, cheering through the final whistle and for about 10 minutes after the match, perhaps worked up a bit by DC's post-game celebration.

But Portland can't take all its fans on the road, and they'll need to re-group a bit before Saturday's match against Chivas USA. Said Jeremy Hall after the match: “Sometimes, you need to hit a little bump to progress.”

EXTRA TIME! Same team! Same team!
• Kenny Cooper would've been better off staying in bed on Sunday, says The Trib's Stephen Alexander, who outlines a "nightmare" day for Portland.
• Portland's third-opportunity PK goal and the drama around it "is bound to be spoken about for many weeks to come," says Prost Amerika.
• The assistant referee's call was "one of those infractions in sports, like a phantom tag in baseball, that is rarely enforced," says Steven Goff of The Washington Post.
• "(Spencer and Cooper) both gave each other a single pat on the back as Cooper got to the bench," reports Soccer by Ives' Jose M. Romero.
• The triple-PK fiasco was "probably the most bizarre set of events this season," according to Stumptown Footy's Ryan Gates, while Geoff Gibson says the loss will "hopefully, give the guys a huge reality check" as they hit the road to face Chivas USA.
• DC "punctured the Portland Timbers’ air of invincibility at JELD-WEN Field," says MLSsoccer.com.
• "Timbers fans may want to keep an eye on" the fallout from the Cooper situation, says MLS Talk's Robert Hay, who runs down a strange weekend in all of MLS.
• Goal.com's report calls DC's win "unlikely."
• Timbers fans do their part to help victims of the tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., hometown of Capt. Jack. (Folks can still make a $10 donation, by texting REDCROSS to 90999).
Fans are in focus in this photo essay from The O's Nick Hernandez.
• Highlights from the match:

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