The Portland Timbers celebrated the return of Game of Thrones by re-enacting a famous scene, this version was the ‘red-card wedding’. The hosts cunningly offered the visiting Utahns bread and salt and lured into them into their Providence Park stronghold. But then came the twist, in an ultimate betrayal in front of their home crowd the hosts proceeded to willfully decimate themselves instead of their rivals.
First youngster Victor Arboleda, poised for his first complete half as a Timber, cut his opportunity short by 37 minutes when he caught Joao Plata upside the head with an errant elbow shortly after halftime. An experienced player like Fanendo Adi wasn’t about to be upstaged by a young team mate. He took his cue and only 2 minutes later received his marching orders for body slamming Kyle Beckerman to the ground with fervor seldom seen outside of Montanan congressional candidates.
In fairness to Adi he did take his opponent with him this time. Beckerman had caught Adi with a fist/forearm in the ribs as the Nigerian burst past him and Toledo viewed that as enough for a red on the Salt Lake man.
In the normal course of events there are two options for a professional player when you perceive an opponent to have caught you with a cheeky, illegal blow.
(i) play through it and get him back later when the referee’s attention is elsewhere.
(ii) go down in a heap holding your ribs and hope the ref brings the game back to 10 vs 10.
Instead Adi chose option (iii) stop playing, call the referees attention to exactly what you are about to do and then take your opponent to the ground.
It was possibly the biggest over-reaction since Prince Joffrey sent the Hound to ride down and dispatch (presumably cruelly) Mycah the butcher’s boy. It looked like a season of frustration had condensed into a moment of red mist for Adi.
At 10 men versus 9 Salt Lake’s 10 were already two goals to the good. The Timbers had no way back and conceded two more goals to Ruznak and Plata before a late consolation from Jack Barmby.
Given their injuries (Vytas, Ridgewell and Chara) and Gold Cup absentees (Powell, Mattocks, Guzman and Nagbe) the Timbers were forced to press new signing Larrys Miabala into a start at center back, beside him at right back Chance Meyers also made his first start. The visitors explored opportunities on that side in the first half, but their opening goal came from a long range Kyle Beckerman strike after 10 minutes.
It was a very nice shot, but Portland’s second choice defensive midfielders Olum and Zemanski left him far too much time in which to execute it.
Despite their patch-work back six, the Timbers still had a 3 DP’s (Valeri, Blanco and Adi) in the front four and Asprilla had been filling in quite well for Nagbe. While the attack was lively at times the lack of any sustained possession prevented the home strikers from building much momentum.
The best two midfielders on display were on the visiting team. The Nigerian, Sunday “Sunny” Obayan was solid throughout and Slovakian international Albert Ruznak offered a nice range of attacking passing.
The home side tried to hold an ambitiously high line with a back four that had not played together before and Salt Lake runners were able to penetrate dangerously several times. Gleeson came up with a few good saves but the hosts were quite lucky to be only one down at the break.
Portland were still in the game, but an injury to Chance Meyers just before halftime revealed exactly how threadbare their squad was for this game.
When your right back gets hurt in a game, here is what normally happens. Your reserve right back jumps off the bench warms up a little and gets subbed into the game. Pretty simple – no advanced degree in multilateral diplomacy required.
For Portland it was a much more complex, multi-cascading maneuver. Zarek Valentin swapped from left back to right back. Roy Miller stepped across from center back to left back. Lawrence Olum moved back from defensive midfield to center back. Sebastian Blanco shifted from left wing to defensive midfield. Dairon Asprilla swapped across from right wing to left wing. The sub, Victor Arboleda, came into the game at right wing.
One injury and 6 guys are in new positions. White-board that pre-game!
Portland only had 4 of a possible 6 outfield subs dressed, so their options were few.
The new look line-up didn’t help the Timbers much, the second half was only 5 minutes old when Asprilla looked to be called for a pretty soft penalty. Replays showed he had stepped on Savarino’s foot and Toledo got the call correct. Plata tucked the penalty in nicely.
Shortly after that the red-card wedding scene ended the game as a competitive affair. The second half pretty much looked like this: