Timbers willing to gamble on offsides, despite calls

Spencer: ‘You’ve got to let forwards be forwards’

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

 

Law 11 is among the shortest in the soccer rule book.

But the offside infraction is often a source of consternation and long debates among fans and players.

The Portland Timbers have been flagged for being offside 41 times through 11 games, the second most in Major League Soccer. In Sunday’s home-field loss to D.C. United, Portland’s Kenny Cooper twice scored goals that were invalidated because he was — correctly — determined to be in an offside position.

“I obviously have to do a better job staying onside,” Cooper said. “I didn’t do a good job of it (against D.C.).”

The offside rule

• A player is in an offside position if he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and fewer than two opponents.

• It is not an offense in itself to be in an offside position.

• The offside rule applies to an attacking player’s position at the time that a teammate passes the ball to him, not to the offside player’s position when the ball arrives.

Why have an offside rule? The rule, which dates to early attempts in the mid-19th century to codify the rules of association football in England, is on the books to prevent loitering in front of the opposing goal. Or, in American vernacular, to prevent cherry picking.

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Timbers head coach John Spencer, a forward during his playing days, said he isn’t bothered by the high number of offside infractions against his team.

“You’ve got to let forwards be forwards,” Spencer said. “At times, they’re going to try to cheat and hope they can get half a yard to give them that advantage. So I won’t tell them to stop.”

In the first half on Sunday, Cooper was a half-step behind the defense when Jorge Perlaza flicked the ball forward with his head, sending Cooper in for a one-on-one chance.

In the second half, the 6-foot-3 Cooper spun off a United defender and scored from a Jack Jewsbury free kick.

“On that particular one I think I may have just taken a chance,” Cooper said. “Unfortunately, it was called offside, but I’ve got to do a better job with (staying onside).”

Spencer said both offside calls in Sunday’s match were correct. The coach emphasized that it is a forward’s job to press the issue, and force defenders to respond. That includes putting pressure on officials to make a difficult decision.

“Sometimes the referee doesn’t see it, or the linesman doesn’t pick up the offside and you get (a goal),” Spencer said.

Cooper and Perlaza each have scored three goals through 11 MLS matches this season. Cooper has not scored in the last four matches. Prior to his goal late in the loss to D.C., Perlaza’s only two goals for the Timbers came in the home opener against Chicago.

Spencer is hoping for more production, but said his two forwards are playing with the needed aggressiveness.

“Forwards, you’ve just got to let them be natural, make their runs, let them play the game with a little bit more imagination than say a defensive midfield player,” Spencer said. “Jorge’s runs have been fantastic. I think his movement is excellent. It’s just up to us to try to create better chances for him.”

As for being caught offside while trying to get a jump on the defense, Cooper said preparation can help.

“When you look at other teams, you might be able to tell sometimes whether they are looking to (trap) people offside,” Cooper said.

Ultimately, he said, it comes down to awareness.

“I need to do a better job with (staying onside), maybe not take as much of a chance and be more conscious of the defenders around me,” Cooper said.

Notes

• The Timbers under-23 team plays a significant match at 11 a.m. today at Jeld-Wen Field against the Kitsap Pumas. In addition to its role in the standings in the Northwest Division of the Premier Development League, the match will determine which team will represent the division in the U.S. Open Cup national tournament. Tickets cost $5.

Camas High School graduate Nick Palodichuk has seen significant playing time in midfield for the Timbers U23s. Brent Richards, another former Papermaker, has played only one match so far this season, but could be in the Portland lineup today.

• Central defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso will stay with the Timbers and start in Saturday’s match at Chivas USA rather than joining The Gambia national team as originally planned.

• Spencer would not say on Thursday if rookie Darlington Nagbe will be in the lineup on Saturday. Nagbe has been slowed by an abductor muscle injury, and Spencer said the team is monitoring Nagbe to avoid prolonging the injury.