it is 7 am and i am still having trouble understanding what occurred last night. for the majority of the match i stood in the northend, bored to near death if only for the continued snide remarks exchanged between myself and my seat neighbors. to say we were more entertained by our own comedic efforts than the comedy on the pitch would accurately describe the overall experience. but there are moments in matches that turn you into a complete and blithering idiot so full of rage the only words that come to mind typically begin with f and c. last night, the prevailing words coming from ever person within 50 yards of me in the last moments of the match were just those.
unfortunately, and as is continually the case, those final moments that marred a reasonably boring affair were stirred up by the overall incompetence of major league officiating. as much as i would like to say the penalty given was not a penalty, i cannot. from first blush it looked bad. from second blush, it looked close. on third blush, well, i no longer cared. but it was not the penalty given to dc united that set me off on an invective charged tirade, goaded by my seat neighbors and the typically calm and reserved mrs sunshine. the two instances that set me off involved the nfl tackle on steven smith that launched him into the advertising standard on the left touchline, and the second was franck songoo's yellow card.
what was so galling about the smith tackle is that not once did the linesman every wave his little flaggy to suggest a dangerous and illegal tackle had been performed. but when perry kitchen (or was it chris pontius) made that tackle the only item he was after appeared to be smith's nutsack, and that was made quite obvious by the fact the ball was rolling forward and was not jettisoned into 218 or the prawn sandwich crowd. the question of how a linesman can make a decision about a potentially game changing handball that, when reviewed now 4 times with the assistance of video replay, i cannot make a conclusive decision of whether it was a handball or whether the ball simply grazed horst's side and yet when a clearly dangerous tackle is made on smith within 5 yards of his position that same linesman cannot wave the play is still frustrating my little brain.
the frustration was then compounded by the michael kennedy's misunderstanding of the rules of football. when the ball is in the air, untouched by any player, especially the keeper, it is in play. so, when songoo snagged the ball from the air as bill hamid went to punt it down pitch the play should have been allowed. songoo neither touched hamid nor did he kick the ball out of hamid's hand. hamid had released the ball and was waiting for it to drop before kicking it. he did not have control of it and so franck had every right to make the challenge. perhaps the imp ref felt overly protective of bill hamid following some of the gaffs he made in the first half, allowing a back pass to run out for a corner and his handling of nagbe's 25 yard screamer come to mind. perhaps the imp was not paying attention well enough to see that songoo did not touch hamid. perhaps the imp is simply unacquainted with the rules of football. i could contrive any number of excuses for the little fella, but not one would cause me to feel better about the officiating. even had songoo touched hamid to get the ball, which did not happen, that would still not be a cardable offense. in 2003, thierry henry did the same thing to brad freidel but with greater force, actually connecting with freidel before scoring what would be a disallowed goal and never received a card. arguably the premier league's officiating is the best in the world, while the ref got the overall call wrong he did not card thierry for the same thing songoo attempted. frankly, i applaud franck for that effort--it was yet another display of his desire to take this team on his back.
overall, the game was evenly matched. the timbers held a slight advantage in possession, but with sal zizzo and darlington nagbe having an offnight of sorts the timbers could have been playing alone, without dc united on the pitch, and still failed to score. fresh from the beer league, aside from one dangerous defense splitting run that forced a good save by hamid on a songoo shot, the padless chris korb kept sal in his back pocket all night. that happens. as does the timbers continued issues with finishing. the team's overall passing accuracy has increased, but when they approach the final third they are still ineffective. if it had not been for dike performing the job he was brought on to do, you know, chasing down bad balls and making something happen, the game would have ended in greater controversy than it did. whether the timbers ineffectiveness in the final third was attributable to the lack of a creative player, the halting defense played by united, or the fact the ginger interim required dike to do something more than his job description, those answers need to be addressed in the off-season.
but frustrating as the timbers were in the final third, knowing that a proven goalscorer is resting on the pine while the rodwall continually made bad decision after bad decision showed the lack of tactical ingenuity possessed by the ginger interim. i am not certain why he is reluctant to step away from playing with two holding midfielders until the 80 minute. even then his decision to take of kosuke for mwanga was baffling. the rodwall was the gum in the cogs last night. appearing to be the footballing equivalent of a caged squirrel attempting escape, he continually ran flat into kitchen, over and over and over again. he rivaled captain forever in the number of completed backpasses, and clearly had no idea of what to do with the ball when in possession. eventually, the rodwall's ineffectiveness forced songoo to fall back deeper than he typically plays in order to bring the ball forward. this allowed united to set their defensive line and halt the timbers forward progression and win 55% of the midfield duels through their efforts.
given the run of play, or, shall i say, given the plod of play, following the pontius penalty in the 60 minute it seemed the timbers faithful were doomed to a dejected walk to their locals. but life was brought back to the jw in the 80 minute through the effort of steven smith. he took the ball past midfield, passed to nagbe who then returned the favor. smith drove to the byline and levelled in a dangerous cross that was poorly dealt with by najar, who looked to handle the ball (just saying) which really had no effect on the outcome. dike chased the ball down, turned and fired the ball into the roof of the net from 3 yards out to even the affair and make up for the several missed chances from earlier in the match. as they say, he is not a finesse striker, he is a rhino--the fella could not score on open goal from 18 yards, but give him 3 with a packed box and things seem to happen. and as it happens, that is how the match would end--even at 1.
a final thought regarding the penalty. whether it was a bad call or not, david horst should not have jumped at the ball the way he did. i get he is not michael jordan and needs the use of his arms to increase his vertical leap, but attempting to block a ball in flight with your arm extended only invites the controversy we all experienced last night. had his arms remained to his body the issue would have likely been a non-issue. the game is officially in the books as is the timbers inability to make the playoffs.
alright, my memory of last night has ended and i am still battling to make sense of it all, so, with that, have a great sunday!