Two games in one week, each one trying to out-do the other for weirdness.
1) After three straight games without a goal, the Timbers faced New England and were shut out in the first half. Then, three minutes into the 2nd half, when the goal-less streak had reached 319 minutes, Jorge Villafana and Jeremy Ebobisse said enough was enough.
I can’t overstate the relief I felt when Jebo put this in. The entire stadium seemed to exhale.
A thing to note on this goal is that it was immediately after a free kick (or maybe a corner kick, I can’t remember), so we had everyone forward. See Larrys Mabiala and Bill Tuiloma in the box? Their presence drew the attention of New England defenders, which is part of the reason why Jebo was able to make that stealthy late run to the back post. Great run, great finish, 1-0, good guys.
A half hour later, Ebobisse scored his second, though I can’t tell if it was on purpose. Was this an accidental scorpion kick goal?
That’s got to be complete dumb luck, right? He’s going for that with his head and misjudges it, but then it accidentally hits his feet and goes in. Right?
Or did Jebo realize that the angle was wrong for a header, and that his only chance to get it on goal was to try for the scorpion and hope for the best? Call me crazy, but this is the theory I’m leaning toward. I think the young man took a chance and, damn, if it didn’t work.
Of course, there is a third possibility. It’s possible the gods of soccer, after shutting us out for three and a half games, decided they’d been giving Portland attackers a little too much bad luck lately and tried to make up for it here. One impossible shot later, it was 2-0, good guys.
2) Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Man, up 2-0 in the 80th minute? There’s no way the Timbers can blow this! Right?
Wrong. The Timbers were completely capable of blowing this. It started in the 87th minute with this New England goal.
My main complaint is the number of New England players behind Diego Chara and Cristhian Paredes. At the very start of that clip, there are five attackers behind our d-mids. That’s five attackers against our four backline defenders. I’m not a believer in completely bunkering with a late lead, but we’ve got to at least be bunker-ish. We’ve can’t let New England have a 5-on-4 advantage.
And then, two minutes later, the Timbers made every effort to allow a second goal.
That’s horrendous. Were the Timbers tired? Was it all the games in such a short period of time? Or had it just been so long since they’d had a lead that they’d forgotten how to close a game out?
3) But the Timbers somehow made it to stoppage time, still up 2-1. To my knowledge, and to the knowledge of everyone around me, the number of stoppage time minutes was never announced. The 4th official didn’t hold up his sign, the Timbers didn’t put it up on the JumboTron, and the PA announcer didn’t say it over the stadium speakers. The only way my section knew it was four minutes is because someone’s wife was watching it at home and texted him, then he announced it to us all.
At that point, two minutes of stoppage had passed. Then three minutes had passed. Then four. Then five. Up in my section, we were losing our fucking minds, screaming at Jair Marrufo to blow his fucking whistle, but he never did.
Then, at around the five-and-a-half minute mark, the VAR tells Marrufo he should look at a play.
Are you fucking kidding me? That is breathtakingly divey. Mabiala gives his jersey a tug and he falls forward? Wilfried Zahibo should be ashamed of himself. I’m sure he isn’t, though, just like I’m sure Dom Diver isn’t ashamed of himself for all the diving he’s done over his career.
But here’s the thing: diving works. It’s reprehensible, but it works. Case in point, Jeremy Ebobisse from the 76th minute of the same game.
♂️ ♂️ ♂️ ♂️ ♂️ ♂️#PORvNE | #RCTID pic.twitter.com/AnxXxZAJEG— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) September 26, 2019
He got his jersey tugged, but instead of diving, tried to play through it, and got no call from the referee. Here’s video of the two incidents, which Caitlin Murray was kind enough to put side-by-side.
People hate that players dive and/or whine to referees but... seems they do it because it works. Ebobisse's shirt got pulled, no PK. Zahibo's shirt got pulled, PK. Maybe Ebobisse needs to work on his flopping? #RCTID #MLSCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/dICNFtwZby— Caitlin Murray (@caitlinmurr) September 26, 2019
That’s some bullshit.
You know who agrees with me? Timbers owner Merritt Paulson, who didn’t wait to yell at the refs when they walked off the field. Paulson actually came out to midfield after the game to get up in their faces and scream. As a result, this week the league fined him $100,000. That’s right, 100 grand.
I’m torn on this. There’s a side of me that thinks it’s cool to have an owner who cares, while there’s another side of me that thinks that if he’s willing to get fined that kind of money over a penalty call, I wish he’d been willing to get fined for defying the league’s Iron Front ban. After all, if you’ve got a hundred grand to burn, burn it on something noble, not just a fit of anger.
But fine or no fine, the game ended 2-2. The Timbers had a 2-0 lead in the 87th minute and blew it, proving, once again, that soccer is an asshole who only wants us to be unhappy.
4) Next up, our first road game in two months. It’s been so long since I watched a Timbers game on TV, I had to re-introduce myself to everyone at my local bar.
It was an insane game with tons to talk about, so let’s get to it. Sebastian Blanco opened the scoring in the 29th minute.
I really like when players dribble all the way to the end line before crossing. After all, when you’re that far forward, it’s pretty much impossible for your teammates to be offside.
That being said, as Marvin Loria was dribbling along, I thought he’d blown it. I thought he’d gone too far, waited too long, and missed his chance to make a pass. Turns out, nope. He did just fine, and a lucky bounce or two later, the Timbers were up 1-0, on the road.
And that lasted about 60 seconds.
What the fuck, Timbers? We weren’t even done giving each other high fives. Two minutes of happiness is too much to ask? Sheesh...
But the main issue with this goal isn’t whether the Timbers defense wants to kill our joy, it’s whether SKC’s Johnny Russell was onside. That’s him out on the wing, making the cross. Was he offside? Or did Claude Dielna keep him onside by being so slow to rejoin the back line?
The guys on Instant Replay think Russell was off. The guy at Offside Modeling thinks he was on.
So that Russell goal for #SKC in #SKCvPOR?— SoccerPhotogrammetry AKA "A Nice Gentleman" (@OffsideModeling) September 30, 2019
Very difficult to do with only one camera angle, but I did my best to piece together estimates. Seems like anywhere from 5-10" onside. Could be less, but I doubt it was offside after trying many different approaches. pic.twitter.com/RjVqK89LHr
What do I think? I think Claude Dielna needs to move his ass and get even with the rest of his back line.
5) So, that made it 1-1 in the 30th minute. Next up: the melee!
I’ll be honest, I’m a little embarrassed by how much I enjoy soccer fights. I’m not a big fan of real fights, with fists and kicks and blood and all that. But soccer fights? They’re awesome. Lots of jawing, lots of chest bumping, and very little actual violence.
Here’s the full melee. Two guys got red carded. See if you can guess which ones.
If you guessed that SKC midfielder Felipe Gutierrez was the one to get red carded, you’d be wrong. Gutierrez knocked Brian Fernandez on his ass, then stood over him, yelling at him, and when Fernandez got off the ground to yell back, he’s the one who got red carded.
What did BFF get red carded for? No one seems to know. Was it when his forehead touched Gutierrez’s forehead? Was it when he touched the back of Gutierrez’s neck? Was it something we didn’t see? No one knows.
We’re not even sure if it was two yellow cards, or one yellow and then a separate straight red, or if the original yellow was rescinded, to be replaced by a straight red. Everyone’s got theories, but no one seems to know for sure. I’m not even sure the referees know. It’s possible they were just making shit up.
We do know that the Timbers are appealing the red card and the one game suspension that goes along with it. If that appeal is unsuccessful, we’ll be without the King of Thunder for the San Jose game.
Fortunately, Fernandez wasn’t the only guy to get tossed. As you saw up above, Roger Espinoza raced in and joined the fracas by putting his hand around Blanco’s throat, which I think is a red card not even SKC fans will argue. In fact, they’re probably quite proud of Espinoza, since this red made him the all-time MLS leader in red cards. Congratulations, you old goon. SKC’s the perfect team for you.
6) Those red cards made it a 10-v-10 game, which sometimes leads to more scoring, due to more open space on the field, but the teams managed to make it to halftime with the score still 1-1.
That changed 30 seconds into the second half.
The thing that amazes me about this play is how many Timbers are bunched up in the corner of the box. Five guys! And why are they there, exactly? I have to assume some SKC player had the ball there, but still... five guys? This isn’t Queen Bee soccer, guys. You don’t all have to swarm the ball, leaving Zarek Valentin to cover the entire rest of the box. But if you are gonna swarm the ball, stop the friggin’ ball. Don’t let it squirt out of there.
See how Zarek’s yelling at the end of the play? I have to assume he was yelling something similar. Something about how this isn’t U-9 soccer at the park
Well, I can’t linger on that drama, because there’s more drama to come. In the 55th minute, Jeremy Ebobisse came on, and then in the 58th, believe it or not, we had the grand return of your favorite headcase, Dairon Asprilla! The two of them were both involved in the goal that tied it up.
Remember earlier in the column when I talked about how Jebo might need to take flopping lessons? Well, clearly, he ain’t interested, because, just like in the New England game, he refuses to go down. Twice he got pulled and yanked and yet each time he kept going for the ball. Jebo ain’t here to flop, he’s here to score goals, and I say, God bless him. Don’t change, Jebo. Don’t change.
So anyway, Jebo drew the penalty, Sanchez got the red card, Dairon sank the PK, and we got out of Kansas City with a very weird, very eventful 2-2 draw.
What’s next? Our final game of the regular season, Sunday afternoon against San Jose. If we win, we’re in the playoffs. If we draw, we’re in the playoffs. If we lose, we might still be in the playoffs, if Dallas can’t win at home versus SKC.
There was a time this year when San Jose was the worst team in the league. There was another time when they might have been the best team in the league. And now? It’s hard to tell if they’re good or bad.
But you know who else that paragraph describes perfectly? The Portland Timbers. We used to be bad. Then we were good. Now? I have no idea if we’re good or bad. We might win next week, then start a Cinderella run through the playoffs. We might also lose 5-0 and be done for the year. I have no idea. I just know I’ll be at Providence Park cheering them on and hoping for the best. See you there.