D.C. United 3, Timbers 2
Storyline: Portland loses for the first time in six MLS home matches, paying for a sluggish start and two defensive breakdowns.
Controversy: Decisions by the officials played a big role in the outcome, with two goals coming from penalty kicks, and with two apparent goals for Portland’s Kenny Cooper erased on debatable offside calls.
Up next: Portland at Chivas USA, 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
PORTLAND — The Portland Timbers’ first Major Soccer League loss at Jeld-Wen Field was rife with controversy and contention.
There were officials’ decisions that took away goals and others that resulted in goals.
There was Timbers forward Kenny Cooper losing his cool.
And there was a late surge from the home team that nearly got Portland a better result than Sunday’s 3-2 loss to D.C. United.
To Portland coach John Spencer, none of the dramatics on the field Sunday were as significant as his team’s subpar preparation leading up to the match. To the coach, the Timbers got what they deserved even if the sellout crowd of 18,627 didn’t.
“I thought we were second to every first ball. I thought we were second to every second ball,” Spencer said. “We started sloppy in the Philly game and got away with it. We started sloppy against Columbus and got away with it. And today we got punished. That’s what happens when you don’t practice how you play.”
Jack Jewsbury and Jorge Perlaza scored second-half goals for the Timbers (5-4-1), but the visitors put the ball behind former United keeper Troy Perkins three times — including twice within 10 minutes to pull away from a 1-1 tie in the second half.
The strangest episode on Sunday came between the 64th minute, when Cooper was pulled down in the penalty area to earn a penalty kick, and the 67th minute, when Jewsbury converted the PK to tie the score at 1-1. Twice D.C. keeper Bill Hamid stopped Cooper PKs, only to have Portland be given another chance from the spot because of violations.
When Spencer decided to let team captain Jewsbury take the third crack at the PK, Cooper was clearly unhappy. He let his coach, and Jewsbury, know it. Moments later, Cooper was replaced by Ryan Pore.
After the match, Cooper — who might have been extra frustrated because he had two goals taken away by iffy offsides judgments — apologized to his teammates and told the media he was embarrassed and sorry.
“I made a mistake,” Cooper said. “I should have shown more respect to our captain and our coach, and not put up a fight like I did. I’m very sorry for that.”
Both Spencer and Jewsbury said the incident would be quickly forgotten. But the coach sent a message by replacing the big forward in a tie game.
“I had to let him know that I’m the head coach, and when I tell someone that Jack Jewsbury’s going to take the kick, then they need to respect that decision,” Spencer said.
While the goal got Portland even on the scoreboard, it also infused more interest in attacking from United (4-4-3), which had led from the 13th minute when defender Perry Kitchen converted from a long throw-in. In minute 75, the visitors cashed in their own penalty kick to regain the lead.
That PK was awarded when referee Geoff Gamble ruled that Portland’s Diego Chara committed a hand-ball foul after a sliding tackle near the top of the 18-yard box. Chris Pontius converted the kick.
D.C.’s third goal came 10 minutes later, with Josh Wolff finishing an assist from Blake Brettschneider in the 85th minute. That play started with a Hamid punt and ended with Portland paying for a defensive lapse.
Perlaza made it interesting by heading home a long throw-in from Jeremy Hall in the 88th minute, and whistling a low shot just outside the post in stoppage time. But, ultimately, the Timbers couldn’t overcome their uninspired work — both in practice and during Sunday’s first half.
“You can see in training, we just haven’t been ourselves the day before (games),” Hall said. “I don’t know if it’s tired legs or just mentally not into it, or maybe thinking that we’re playing at home that we’re going to get a win (for sure).”
Sunday’s lesson was harsh, but one that might have been inevitable.
“Sometimes,” Hall said, “you need to hit a little bump to progress.”
• The Timbers visit Chivas USA on Saturday. The next home match is June 11 against Colorado.
• The Timbers face the Seattle Sounders at 2 p.m. today in a Reserve League match at Jeld-Wen Field. The match will involve many of the second-teamers for both clubs. Tickets cost $10. This is the first of five home matches for the Timbers reserves, who won 3-1 in Los Angeles against the Galaxy reserves and lost 3-2 to the Sounders reserves in Tukwila.
• D.C. United captain, midfielder Dax McCarty, missed the game with a groin injury. The Timbers selected McCarty in the expansion draft then traded him to D.C. for Rodney Wallace.