The Portland Timbers' fate against the New York Red Bulls – and for now their playoff positioning – turned in the span of six minutes Saturday in a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena.
Trailing 1-0 in the 57th minute, Timbers midfielder Kalif Alhassan and forward Kenny Cooper watched two consecutive runs on the Red Bulls' goal ding off the crossbar in the span of seconds. And then minutes later, Alhassan was whistled for handling a Thierry Henry shot in the box that led to the Red Bulls’ deciding penalty kick goal by Luke Rodgers.
And as if the controversial call wasn’t enough for the Timbers, Alhassan was sent off by referee Alex Prus, virtually sealing Portland’s fate.
“I felt that we had a really, really good performance from us today,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “I felt that we never showed them any respect, whatsoever. It was really unfortunate not to tie the game up 1-1 with two balls that hit the crossbar within 60 seconds.”
The Alhassan and Cooper volleys came when Darlington Nagbe found Alhassan on the left wing. Alhassan took a curling shot that sailed over the outstretched hand of Red Bulls goalkeeper Frank Rost but glanced off the crossbar. Cooper was there to collect the rebound, but his bounding scissor-kick also clanged off the bar before the scoring threat was cleared.
“We made a couple adjustments at halftime, and I thought we started the second half ever so well and caused them problems,” Spencer said of going into the half down 1-0 after a first-half goal by Dane Richards.
After the missed opportunity it didn’t take long before the curtain was pulled on Portland’s chances when Alhassan was whistled for a handball. Henry’s shot appeared to make contact with Alhassan’s upper chest, evident by his reaction of disbelief after the call.
“I had a pretty good angle, but I haven’t seen a so I don’t want to talk too much about it,” said team captain and midfielder Jack Jewsbury, who will miss the Timbers' next game Saturday at Vancouver because of yellow card accumulation. “The ball was banging around in there. The first one comes off somebody; I thought it was a shoulder, not real clear. Like I said, I haven’t looked at a replay, but no whistle and then they get a second chance and it goes wide. Next thing you know the whistle is blown for a PK and a red card. Like I said before, that was kind of a shock to all of us. At that point, it’s tough to come back from.”
As it is, the Portland Timbers road woes continue, costing them 10th and final spot in the wild card playoffs standings. The Red Bulls take over the spot with 39 points from 30 games. D.C. United, with their victory over Real Salt Lake, also leap over Portland with 38 points, one better than the Timbers.
Their next match is another road trip, this time to last place Vancouver, which may represent the opportunity to boost a 1-9-4 record away from home.
"We felt confident coming in and I thought we started the game real well and put them on their heels,” Jewsbury said. “I don’t think the travel is an excuse. Every team goes through that on a weekly basis."