by Abe Asher
It looked like Carl Robinson was headed towards the referees. A white man, about 40 years old in a button-down and khakis, was verging on apoplectic. But it soon became clear – this guy was more gangly and less built than Robinson, and there was no mistake: It was Merritt Paulson, furiously and sarcastically applauding and screaming at the officiating crew as they were booed of the pitch at Providence Park.
For a minute, you had to be concerned that the Timbers’ owner was about to get himself thrown out of the league.
You could take any moment from this game and place it on a pedestal: There was Caleb Porter almost coming to blows with Carl Robinson after the Whitecaps’ celebrated their thrilling 4-3 victory over the Portland Timbers like they had not only won the league but then also stayed on the field like they had conquered Gibraltar.
Or you could trade that for Caleb Porter giving up the chance to fight Robinson for the chance to fight the media, which he did with a classless aplomb.
There was Pa Moudu Kah trying to dribble three Whitecaps players after a calamitous first half, or, if you want to look on touchy-feely side of things, Kah kissing Darlington Nagbe rates too.
There was Great Stott, referee Kevin, who had no semblance of control and missed a major call – even if he got every other decision more or less correct. But he wasn’t the big story.
The Timbers got shredded for about 50 minutes Sunday night, torn apart like a half-finished sandcastle on a windy day. Their comeback was unsurprising, but how many miracles can you possibly ask for in a season? No, the Timbers got what they deserved in this game. The end of their 23-game home unbeaten streak.
Too bad that the end had to come against a smarmy Vancouver team with characters like Pedro Morales and Sebastian Fernandez persistently and unrelentingly time-wasting while not picking Portland’s defense apart, but that’s what happened.
This game really did have it all: Seven goals, two penalties, two brawls, one started by the managers, a four-goal barrage, and plenty of animosity to go around.
It always felt like the momentum that the Timbers picked up from their two road wins in the last week was precarious at best, because, to be honest, they were never really tested. Vancouver, with sleek attacking players and an abundance of swagger all over the pitch were always going to come at Portland.
Caleb Porter didn’t do himself any favors. The back-four of Jorge Villafana, Kah, Rashawn McKenzie and Jack Jewsbury was always headed for disaster. McKenzie and Villafana just aren’t good enough to start in MLS. Porter had a chance to reunite the back-line that did so well last year and at times this year, with a fit-again Michael Harrington, Futty Danso, and Kah and Jewsbury.
Instead, Porter decided to play Villafana for the third time in nine days – never-mind the fact that he’s hardly played at all in the last year, and McKenzie too, because he had one decent game against New York.
What Porter failed and fails to understand is that chemistry and familiarity are paramount within a defense, especially when trying to compensate for talent shortages like the Timbers are. This unit looked like it was playing together for the first time. They were all over the place. It was all too predictable.
Kah plays best with Futty. The two guys love each other, and know how each other play. When Kah isn’t paired with Futty, things get ugly.
This was the kind of game you have to live with when Kah is your undisputed first choice center-back. An unstoppable barrage of idiotic plays and erratic behavior that cost a team games. Not that the performance was entirely his fault, but the Timbers weren’t put in a position to succeed defensively.
It did start well – again – for the Timbers, who came out firing. Maxi Urruti scored a blinding goal in the third minute to put Portland up. Urruti is playing his best soccer. His finishing as of late has been impeccable. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do anything else well, which is the strike against him and for Fanendo Adi moving forward.
But the Timbers’ control of the game slipped. Erik Hurtado, who played a terrific game, went on a solo run and was fouled simultaneously by Diego Chara and Jewsbury. Pedro Morales buried the spot-kick.
10 minutes later, after more incredibly sloppy play by the Timbers’ defense, Kah brought down Fernandez and seconds later Morales had two from the spot.
Things got worse on the stroke of halftime as everyone the back-line got worked. All four were culpable as Hurtado got on the end of a driven cross and deflected the ball in off Ricketts’ original save.
And if you were expected the Timbers comeback to start at the beginning of the second half, you had to think again: Villafana gave Morales enough to plan his wedding and pick out a cross to an open Jordan Harvey on the opposite side of the field, and he fired past Ricketts to make it 4-1.
It was only then that the Timbers started playing – and that because Vancouver stopped attacking, taking away the defense problem. Portland pulled a goal back through a beautiful cross from Diego Valeri which Gaston Fernandez planted in the corner.
Their goal to make it 4-3 was special – substitute Adi juggled the ball twice in the area before popping it over his shoulder for Will Johnson to smash in on the volley. Portland had chances to equalize at the death – a missed header from McKenzie and some poor play in the box from Kalif Alhassan standing out – but it wasn’t to be. Credit also goes to Jay DeMerit for at least four big clearing headers in stoppage time.
You don’t just get last minute goals for 3-3 and 4-4 draws every week.
Portland wanted this one badly because of the opposition, but their luck was bound to run out at an inopportune time.
And although Vancouver’s post-game behavior was poor-form, the Timbers’ leaders should be ashamed of themselves.
It’s not the $25,000+ that matters with Paulson accosting the officials. I like that he cares. Love it, actually. But there’s a certain standard of respect and class that Paulson still hasn’t learned to meet when the going gets tough. Hasn’t he learned anything? It’s embarrassing. If you’re players can keep their emotions in check, surely you as the owner can too.
As for Porter, the man is becoming more and more insolent, defensive, and mean with each passing setback. I can see why him and Paulson get along so well. Both are intense and can’t handle losing.
Porter is in trouble when people figure out he’s not a transcendent soccer mind. The way he treats the almost entirely innocuous media makes me cringe. His press conference tonight was the worst we’ve seen yet. You know he’s never going to point the finger at himself, but just the tiniest bit of decency and civility would be welcome.
If Porter pulled that press conference in England, he’d be eaten alive. Devoured by the tabloids in a single morning. Porter’s reputation protects him here. Maybe he sees things we don’t, right? Well, this season is threatening that reputation. Maybe that’s why we’re seeing the worst of Porter.
Between Porter and Paulson, do we really want to leave it to Gavin Wilkinson to be the sane one out of the top trio?
Porter’s player personnel decisions remain stiff and lacking in creativity. He establishes for himself a first-choice lineup and a second choice lineup, and you can’t play your way out of the first team lineup unless you put in a calamitous performance, in which case you get dropped to the bench and you have to wait for a bad performance from the guy in front of you to get back on the field.
How else do you explain Villafana over Harrington? McKenzie over Futty? Zakuani, all due respect to a very good guy, over anybody?
The Timbers are trouble. They’re not one of the five best teams in the Western Conference. They have a very strange, slightly demented ability to fight back in games, but that’s nowhere near enough in the playoff race.
And if you’re keeping score at home, that’s two Cascadia Cup home games, eight goals conceded, and one measly point.
Portland’s home unbeaten streak ended Sunday. They can have no complaints.