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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ref's 'Stinker' Leads To Stoppage-Time Stunner As Portland Drops Third Straight

Posted by Brian Gjurgevich on Sun, Jun 12, 2011 at 1:53 PM

Kenny Cooper's swollen, split eyebrow looked more like a boxer's and a soccer player's. New father Ryan Pore appeared as if he might be coming down with a touch of morning sickness. And John Spencer? Well, he sounded like he didn't care much for MLS officials and acted like dropping a few grand to make that clear was no issue.

The Timbers played Colorado 100 percent tougher than the season-opening drubbing in March, but a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the defending champs on Saturday undoubtedly stung worse.

And it showed.

An insane three-minute stoppage-time session saw Spencer kicked off the field, the Rapids scoring a wild goal and Pore missing a platinum chance at equalizing in the frantic final seconds. And when the pressure cooker popped, Colorado escaped with their first win after a record six straight ties and handed the Timbers' their third defeat in a row and consecutive MLS losses at the House of Pane for the first time, like, ever.

Despite the multiple missed opportunities, Portland played with sustained aggression for 90 minutes for perhaps the first time all season. The Timbers did plenty right to get themselves chances, but finishing those looks was a completely different story.

With matches against two of the league's best on tap, this one could turn out to be a defining game for the Timbers. And that definition could go either way.

More after the jump, including full video of Spencer obliterating the head referee's self esteem, more match thoughts and highlights.

Portland certainly took its knocks in this one.

All-Star nominee Futty Danso injured his left shoulder in the 30th minute and will miss 2-3 weeks. Cooper's face met Jeremy Hall's elbow early in the match, and after the blood stopped streaming from Cooper's eyebrow, he returned with an almost comically-large bandage wrapped around his head. Keeper Troy Perkins backed into the goal and bumped his head against the goalpost, and though it didn't seem to affect him, it put him down on a knee for a moment. Pore's two missed chances (a point-blank header in the 86th and an air-mailed wide-open shot in stoppage) looked like they'd delivered him two punches to the gut. And Diego Chará was nursing his hand in the locker room, his head down and fingers buried in a bag of ice.

It was a bit gloomy, sure, but I didn't hear anyone in the room deny Portland was a better team on Saturday than in March. And perhaps even a better team than Colorado for most of the match.

“I think we were the better team out here tonight,” said Pore. "I thought we played our best game of the season at home."

But it wasn't enough—and apparently, neither was referee Abiodun Okulaja's fitness regimen. Spencer was tossed for arguing with the fourth official and ultimately visually showing the head ref what he thought of his workout routine:

"I made a gesture to him," Spencer calmly said post-match. "I put my fingers across my nose and said to him, 'You're having a stinker.' "

And that's really just the start:

“The fourth official, he’s a nobody that’s trying to be a somebody. And he’s a somebody tonight.”

Anything else?

“I just voiced my opinion. This is a problem in the game. The referees make decisions that cost people their jobs. Yet they go back to their jobs Monday morning, everything is fine. They go back to their families with a smile on their face. But my job is on the line. They should be standing up at press conferences in front of the cameras and giving reasons why they’re making those decisions. Then maybe they might think twice about making those decisions in the future.”

He may have a point there, but the only result of making it will be filling in a few zeroes on a check to the left of a decimal point. MLS will dock Spencer some dough (“I'll get my fine, I’ll do the time, and we’ll move on,” he said) but the coach's biggest worry will now be helping his team get past this loss and prepare for consecutive matches against two of MLS' top teams (vs. New York on June 19, @ Dallas FC on June 25).

How Portland responds will decide just how this match will be defined. The turning point where the Timbers saw what it took to put it all together? Or a demoralizing defeat that encapsulated their slide into expansion-team limbo?

Time will tell, but the signs (crisper passing, more aggression, active forwards, a healthy and calmly dangerous Darlington Nagbe, a shifty and feisty Chará, a continually impressive Perkins) are beginning to show.

Highlights:

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