And so the debate rages on …
Incidents, such as we saw in Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers, are sure to spark argument and counter-argument.
Was the second one a penalty? Were the two red cards deserved? Was the referee up to scratch? Should Portland have been awarded a penalty of their own?
Frankly, the only question I was asking on Saturday was ‘when will I get feeling back in my fingers and toes?’
It was bitterly cold, and I salute the brave souls who ventured out to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
As for the post-match reaction, or over-reaction from a number of quarters, the red card eventually shown to Timbers keeper Donovan Ricketts was absolutely the right decision. It was dangerous, rash, reckless and poorly timed. I'm just hoping Ricketts has not done himself any serious harm.
Now, let’s look at the second penalty decision, and remember, you have to ask yourself ‘would that be a direct free kick outside of the box?’ Because if it would be, then it is also a direct free kick inside the box, which means it’s a pk.
Just because it’s a foul inside the box, which would then lead to a more direct goal-scoring opportunity, does not dilute the offence, or should not, in the eyes of the match officials.
Did substitute keeper Andrew Weber make contact with the ball? Referee Mark Geiger felt he did not. Was Weber out-foxed by a more canny veteran? Quite possibly.
Split-second judgment calls, on the part of the two keepers and the referee, provided the Rapids with two golden chances to score, and they duly took them.
Next to the dismissal late on of José Mari. The initial incident looked worse at full speed. From the replay which, of course, Mr Geiger did not have the luxury of seeing, it appeared a firm but fair challenge. The elbow was not thrown. José Mari jumped up, rather than into the opposing player. Worthy of a yellow card? Maybe. Should the ref shirk from issuing that yellow, just because it would be a second yellow and therefore would be swiftly followed by a red? No.
Again, though, the ref was required to make an instant call, and I’ll not berate him for doing so. And to those suggesting the Timbers deserved a penalty of their own. Poppycock!
As for the contest as a whole, it’ll not be in my list of top 100 games of all-time, and blame the weather for that. Some players have suggested to me that it was the coldest conditions they’ve ever played in. That can’t have made it easy for the two goalkeepers, standing for long periods, and then expected to be ready and alert. Saying that, if you were new to MLS and forced to pick the 2013 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year over the 2014 rookie, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Timbers’ stopper was new to this level of the game. His timing was all awry and ultimately proved his undoing.
Defensively another sound display. Yes, the Timbers broke through on a few occasions, and yet stuttered and spluttered at the crucial moment. For all their supposed firepower – Gaston Fernandez, Darlington Nagbe, Steve Zakuani, Maximiliano Urruti and Diego Valeri – they looked very average, partly due to a lack of creativity, but also down to the organized, disciplined Rapids back line.
The midfield, as with the week before, was again over-populated. Little time or space was afforded to those in possession, and yet it was from this area where the match was eventually won by the Rapids. Dillon Powers, a player – we’re told – still working his way back to full match fitness, provided the spark which led to the two penalty calls. Jose Mari and Nick LaBrocca again combined well.
My only concern, which must be slightly tempered after collecting four points from the first two games, is that the Rapids enjoyed four times as many corners as Portland (8-2), twice as many crosses from open play (14-7) and almost double the attempts on goal (13-7), and yet the decisive blows came from the penalty spot (followed up in the case of Deshorn Brown’s second pk).
So, in a sense, no real glory from open play, despite dominating in key areas with aggressive, attacking play. A similar tale emerged from Red Bull Arena. Plenty of shots, lots of set pieces and the ability to threaten, and 'just' a Vicente Sánchez spot kick.
Now, of course, the Rapids will take penalty decisions all season long if it means picking up points, but the final third needs to click, though I’m not too concerned just yet, because I don’t think this team has realized its full potential. There is plenty of talent, able to be used in a variety of formations, and - no doubt - revelling in dishing out another bloodied nose to the league's so-called big boys.
And one final word ... to the supporters from C38 that unfurled the tremendous tifo before kick-off (pictured above). Great show.