Where to begin in this madcap affair?
I’ll start with my match report, share the basics, and then on the continuation on this thread, break down the disputed plays.
United is unbeaten in four straight in league play and in third place in the Eastern Conference — actually tied on points with Houston but with two fewer matches played. On Friday night, DCU will continue this western swing with a meeting against the Landon-less Galaxy (11 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel).
Although Los Angeles (8-2-5) has an early grip on the Supporters’ Shield, MLS scheduling makes it difficult to assess. Because of Champions League, Real Salt Lake has played just nine league matches. Because it has yet to play a home game at its nearly completed new stadium, Sporting Kansas City has also played just nine.
Until Sunday, no one in MLS had beaten the expansion Timbers in Portland and no one had scored the first goal. With United’s victory, visiting MLS teams registered a stunning 5-0-4 record over the weekend. (In all, there were 35 goals scored in the nine matches.) Until Sunday, the last time a club from the Eastern time zone won on the West Coast was last September.
On Jeld-Wen Stadium’s narrow pitch, two assists came off throw-ins (by Chris Pontius and Jeremy Hall) and the Dejan Jakovic penalty came off a throw. On United’s final goal, Bill Hamid could’ve been credited with a secondary assist. The dimensions are listed at 110 yards long, 70 yards wide. Oddly, there seems to be ample room to expand the playing surface to a more suitable size. The Timbers have conformed well to these tight quarters, but the matches lack elegance.
United rookie forward Blake Brettschneider, who scored against Ajax last weekend, had two assists, both on headers. With Josh Wolff back in action and Charlie Davies expected to return Friday, it will be interesting to see who starts at Los Angeles.
Hamid is building a case to become the top keeper for the U.S. under-23 squad in Olympic qualifying next spring.
Strange day for Kenny Cooper: two goals disallowed by offside calls (correctly), he drew a penalty kick and had two penalties stopped by Hamid. Of course, both failures were forgiven because of Hamid’s goal-line violations and Jack Jewsbury’s substitute penalty.
Let’s now go through the key plays of this match.
We’ll begin with the Jakovic penalty. Yes, he has his arms on him. Yes, Cooper went down after the ball sailed passed. United didn’t like it, but I can see why referee Geoff Gamble made that decision. Take a look:
So the Timbers have a chance to draw even. Cooper stutter-steps in his approach, drawing Hamid off his line. Hamid reads the shot perfectly, goes to his right and makes the save. Assistant referee Eric Proctor raises his flag, signaling that Hamid stepped forward early. By rule, he got it right, but how often is it enforced? Take a look:
Now Cooper has a chance to atone for his first attempt. Cooper’s stutter-step approach is legal, as long as he doesn’t come to a complete stop and then regains his motion. This time, he goes in the opposite direction and again Hamid reads it to make the stop. The flag goes up. Hamid goes nuts. On the bench, infuriated Joseph Ngwenya is warned by the fourth official. Hamid did leave the line early, though he didn’t go as far forward this time. We’ll ask again: How often around the world is this rule enforced?
Commenting on the two disallowed saves, Timbers Coach John Spencer said: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in my career.” And let’s remember, MLS ain’t Spencer’s first rodeo.
Said United Coach Ben Olsen: “I had no idea what was going on out there. ... Bad calls happen every week in this league. It’s what our league is right now. I’m not blaming the referee; I’m crediting my players how they responded after three tough calls.”
Take a look at Cooper’s second bid:
Pegged by Hamid, Cooper yields to Jewsbury, who converts into the left side of the net. You may notice Hamid sticking to the line longer. Take a look:
United regains the lead eight minutes later when Portland’s Diego Chara is called for a handball. It’s not intentional, but Chara does made contact while on the ground. Take a look:
After the PK drama at the other end, Pontius said: “I was going to bang the ball down the middle. I had my mind made up. I didn’t even look at Troy [Perkins].”
Finally for United, here’s how you go end to end in a matter of seconds and all but secure victory:
Olsen, on the defensive effort: “It was about dealing with set pieces, and that’s what this field is about. Unfortunately, that’s what it is. It’s not fun to come here and play because it’s tough to play soccer. It’s about getting the balls into the box, but that’s the reality when you come here. Historically, we have lost when the field is small, when it’s turf, when it’s a real gritty game. The guys today were fed up with that and showed that they can compete physically with any team in the league.”
Offensively, Davies, Pontius and Wolff have now combined for 13 goals. If Andy Najar gets into the scoring spirit, United could become a very dangerous attacking side.
Spencer, on the result: “They were better than us individually and collectively on the day and we didn’t deserve to get anything from the game.”