there are ugly games and then there are ugly games and then there was yesterday’s match against the whitecaps. while the timbers had difficulty finding their stride and playing their brand of football, it could not be overlooked that their efforts were ensconced painfully between the theatrics of a side content on playing anti-football and the clear incompetence of a novice official.
still, the hallmark of a good side is their ability to grind out a result from a less than convincing effort. despite the poor officiating and the efforts of the whitecaps to ensure otherwise, the timbers earned a point after coming back from a goal down twice in one game. they did little to help their cause. though the stats may suggest otherwise, the timbers were profligate at every stage and area of the game. most of which is attributable to the extra-special attention diego valeri received from marques davidson, gershon koffie, and jordan Harvey.
like many of the timbers faithful i have often thought valeri was otherworldly, but there were times during yesterday’s match when i believed valeri had literally sprouted a third and fourth leg. that is how closely he was marked by vancouver, and, obviously, that affected the his play and the timbers overall attack. valeri was poor on the night. really poor. he was tackled and lost possession 25 times, he made 20 unsuccessful passes, 7 unsuccessful crosses, and looked frustrated by every turn of play.
the more valeri was marked the more difficult the bait and switch tactics involving the rod wall became, and the more they failed. where the timbers targeted the rod wall with several cross pitch switches last week against chivas, yesterday they did less with more. even when the ball was provided to the rod wall, his newly found, rangy play was suffocated within seconds. i hate to give an ex-spud any credit, but y.p.lee did a phenomenal job covering the timbers advance on that left flank.
factor all of the above in with the understanding that the match was played on what is the fake-turf equivalent of sharmen toilet paper and you might understand how the timbers could have 63% of the possession, retained with 78% passing accuracy, and still look as if they were treading water. personally, i have never seen a pitch grab a ball and eat it the way that pitch did, it stifled the length and speed of passes, and prevented any break away from fully materializing. (yes, those innuendoes were intentional, because, as you may feel as well, the timbers got jobbed yesterday).
culprit number one, and quite possibly winning the race for my least favorite player in the mls, surpassing even the likes of steven lenhart and wondolowski: camilo sanvezzo. i cannot begrudge the beauty of his free kick goal in the 24 minute to put the caps up 1-0, it was a sublimely struck deadball effort that left donavon ricketts no chance to make another save worthy of award. no, i cannot. but the problem with camilo sanvezzo is that his efforts last night on the whole were worthy of an academy award–he is a cheat of the highest order. much like the foul that saw the captain receive a yellow card and the caps a free kick, sanvezzo sold a novice ref a lemon and the official bought it (the fact remains, johnson did commit a foul just not a foul worthy of a yellow card). earning a free kick should have been enough, but sanvezzo looked to take players out of the game. there is an old saying in sport: if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. well, sanvezzo definitely earned participation points last night.
regardless, a class act showed him how to perform without theatrics and with slight-of-hand play. again, will johnson carried the club when it needed a comeback. after a throw-in on the right flank and a jewsbury cross that was cleared to harrington, the captain took on y.p. lee within the 18 yard box and unleashed a shot that hit a sheepish andy o’brien on the arm. a clear penalty and an easy goal for the captain to make it 1-1.
the resultant celebration was emotional. unfortunately, teams are always at their most vulnerable after having just scored. there is a release, a sense of relief and safety, that dulls a team’s resolve to prevent the opposition from getting in on goal. as soon as the celebrations had ended and the ball was back in play, the caps took advantage of the timber’s temporary, mental slump. poor positioning and shepherding of attackers led to a cracking goal by gershon koffie. off of a throw-in, camilo sanvezzo backed into andrew jean-baptiste, who had the brazilian backed off goal, before sliding a pass to koffie at the top of the 18 yard box. uncertain of where he needed to be, futty determined that he should be everywhere but where he actually needed to be. and by the time he realized he needed to cover koffie the damaging strike had been unleashed, and curling around a retreating timbers backline and into far corner for a goal. 2-1 caps.
from that point, it was clear the game was going to turn only with some form of effort resembling either special or embarrassing or both. but before that came, the timbers had to weather a few counterattacks and a red card. normally, i do not complain about officiating in post game reviews because bad calls happen and it is up to timbers to make their own luck. this review is an exception because the officiating was exceptionally poor all match. the red card awarded to futty for, one, having position on camilo sanvezzo and, two, being pulled into a tumble and dummied by camilo sanvezzo is likely the worst bit of officiating i have ever seen. first, futty did not foul sanvezzo–sanvezzo played that up as well as he could, which suggested even further that he is a cheat. second, and most importantly, that was not a goal scoring opportunity. sanvezzo was not away on goal, nor was he in possession of the ball even in the broadest sense of the term possession. and here lies one of the worst misconceptions and misinterpretations of the laws of football–the last man. nowhere within the laws of football will you find a rule that states “last man.” it does not exist. the rule is that if a player denies by obstruction a clear goal scoring opportunity then a red card will be awarded. that does not change the fact futty had every right to attempt to block out sanvezzo–he had both position and pace on sanvezzo. look, had futty come from behind and taken sanvezzo down i would say he earned a red, but he did not–he had position and a right to play the ball.
regardless, with ten minutes left in the game, and down a goal and a man, i am sure prayers were said and personal masses endured. and they must have been heard (which is a ridiculous statement because i sure god has more important things to do than watch over sporting event). at the 83 minute, the captain lobbed a longball to trencito that was suspiciously similar to doug flutie’s hail mary pass to earn the boston college eagles a famous win. this pass would earn the timbers a not so famous draw. bewildered that the pass hit its mark, andy o’brien and brad rusin converged on the wee train and the wee train bowled right through them. valencia took the ball with his left, turned jordan harvey and put brad knighton on the floor to easily slot the ball into the net with his left. the moment many of the timbers faithful had been awaiting–trencito’s major league debut–brought what they had hoped.
here is the bottom line: in the worst of circumstances, against the worst of foes, the timbers fought back to earn a point. cascadia cup implications aside, this was an effort, born through sheer determination and an unwillingness to lose, that puts paid the claims made by the timbers by their own play that they are a formidable mls side. this was another effort about character, and you would be crazy to believe character did not matter in this game come the end of the season.