A soccer game can turn on a dime.
The Portland Timbers’ matchup against the Colorado Rapids on a cold and snowy Saturday afternoon at Dicks Sporting Goods Park took two nasty turns in a five-minute span. Two turns that left Portland with their heads spinning after two second-half penalty-kick goals and a red card sent them to a 2-0 loss, and a winless start three games into the 2014 MLS season.
Things were going along just fine, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said, up until the 68th minute. That's when goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts came out to challenge Deshorn Brown after he sprang free behind the Portland backline, and bought down the Rapids striker in an errant clearance attempt.
“Next thing you know, it’s a PK, down a goal, down a man, and that makes it very difficult in that situation,” Porter said in his postgame comments. “So I thought that was certainly the play and moment and the call that changed the game. I felt our guys deserved better. It’s tough.”
Through a scoreless first half and early part of the second, both teams controlled stretches of play and created their fair share of chances.
In the Timbers’ case, Porter said things were “playing out exactly the way we wanted it to.”
Timbers winger Steve Zakuani’s low, right-footed rocket had to be saved by diving Rapids rookie goalkeeper John Berner in the 19th minute. Center back Mamadou Danso got a free header in the middle of the box off a Diego Valeri cross in the 32nd minute, but it flew just wide.
Portland were also caught offside six times in the first half as they pressed the action.
“This result is a tough one to swallow,” Porter said. “We were in a good position. I thought the game was tight, like you’d want the game to be especially when you’re on the road. Possession was even, defending well, they were getting very good chances. … We felt like the goal would come.”
But before that could happen, Ricketts’ foul, which drew a red card, changed the game. And then just two minutes after Vicente Sanchez blasted the first sopt kick past backup goalkeeper Andrew Weber, the game really got out of hand.
This time it was Weber, who chopped down a charging Sanchez in the box, leading to Colorado’s second PK, this time converted by Brown.
“I don’t have, right now, all the information I need to make an opinion on some of the calls, but I felt we definitely came out on the wrong way on a few moments today,” said Porter, who noted that Ricketts, who had to be stretchered off the field after the penalty, was cleated in the knee on the play.
Regardless, the loss contributed to the Timbers’ disappointing start to the season, following draws against the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire to start the season. The Timbers have just two goals in three games, a stretch of offensive futility not seen in their successful 2013 season.
“It’s not coming easy, but this locker room is a tight locker room,” Porter said. “They’re not happy, but they’re not questioning themselves. I believe in them, they believe in themselves and we’ll figure it out.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.