After a lackluster home effort against San Jose in which the Portland Timbers were lucky to escape with a point in a 1-1 draw, Portland would make a move up in the standings if they could get a road victory against the New York Red Bulls this past Saturday. It was there for the taking, what with the soap opera that has occurred in the Bulls locker room this week, combined with the fact that Portland’s play on the road was solid last time out against a good Philadelphia squad.
However, instead we were treated to the same old road woes that plagued this team most of the season. Mental lapses on defense, not being able to finish chances (the few that were there) and just some plain old bad luck in the form of questionable officiating (more on that later).
Things looked good to begin with as Portland controlled possession for the first 10 minutes but things went downhill from there. The Timbers seemed to not be able to utilize their speed up front and couldn’t create many scoring chances for themselves. They also let the lack of calls from head referee Alex Prus frustrate them more as the game went along and the physical play increased. Poor defense and soft goalkeeping contributed to New York’s first half goal by Dane Richards. Then an extremely questionable handball call in the 2nd half followed by a ridiculous red card handed out to the offender Kalif Alhassan gave the Red Bulls another goal off the converted Luke Rodgers penalty kick. Two to zero to the Red Bulls, and the Timbers down two goals with ten players. There’s your ballgame.
Now I admit I’m a homer and I don’t want to really clown on the officiating but this was another poor outing by a MLS crew. Prus seemed to have swallowed his whistle as hard fouls, take downs and flops went uncalled for the majority of the game. The handball call in the box was iffy at best but then issuing a red card on top of it as if it was intentional was completely bogus. Let’s hope Major League Soccer can explore upgrading the quality of officials in the offseason as this has been an issue for every club at some point this season.
That being said, the Timbers can only blame the loss on their inconsistent play, especially during road games where the club has won only once all year. Now the team finds themselves on the outside of the playoff race looking in. Another road game against a Vancouver team that will be opening up their new digs at BC Place doesn’t make things get any easier. It’s gut check time kids. This team has bounced back before this season. Let’s see if they can do it again.