In front of a national audience on Fox Soccer Channel’s Friday night USL match, the Minnesota Thunder set numerous records for USL-1 teams in 2009. Unfortunately, the records were not of the positive sort. The Thunder lost to the Portland Timbers 5-1 and had 3 players ejected from the game.
The game was a new season low for the organization. No other team in USL-1 have been outscored this season by more than 3 goals and no other team has had three players ejected from a game. In fact 3 ejected players is a record that most likely goes back a number of years in USL-1 history.
The Thunder started slow but came back and had numerous opportunities in the first half. Even after Julius James’ red card in the 62nd minute, Minnesota played competitively for a team a man down. However, the Thunder was outshot 22-13.
Minnesota started the game off on the back foot. In the 4th minute Andrew Peterson attempted to poke away a ball from former Thunder speedster, Brian Farber. The lightning-fast Farber poked the ball past a frozen Peterson and then hit a nice cut-back cross to George Josten who finished nicely from 15 yards out.
In the 13th minute, Minnesota nearly evened the score. Rod Dyachenko collected a loose ball and headed straight for the goal. Just before he reached the penalty box he took his shot that ricocheted off the left upright and out of danger.
Portland scored again in the 32nd minute when George Josten drew in the defenders on the right side and struck a perfect cross to Takayuki Suzuki who was left unmarked on the left side of goal. Suzuki’s shot was low and to the far post where Nic Platter dove but was not able to reach the perfectly placed ball that never left the ground.
Ricardo Sanchez scored for Minnesota in the 38th minute. After a free kick was awarded to Minnesota, Sanchez lined up from the left side of the box and a good 25 yards out. His curling but driven shot went between the heads of the Portland wall and found the lower right corner of the net. Portland keeper Steve Cronin got a touch but the pace of the ball was too much for the former MLS keeper.
In the 61st minute, Portland was awarded a penalty kick when Julius James fouled inside the box. James was given a red card — being deemed the last defender. The Thunder players argued with referee Maurizo Laudani that he was not the last player as Jon Greenfield was also pulled back. However, the referee was having no part in the discussion and replays showed Greenfield far to the right of the play. David Hayes, former USL-1 defender of the year, took the kick and beat a diving Platter who had been actively darting around on his line before the spot kick.
In the 86th minute, the Thunder became frustrated with their situation and possibly their season. Ricardo Sanchez, who’s known to referees for his temper, blatantly pushed Alex Nimo in the back as he attacked down the left flank. The foul was called but what ensued was a total lack of discipline for the Thunder. Andres Arango stepped up to Nimo who threw the ball at Arango. Arango retaliated and slapped Nimo on the face as the two tussled. Both sides gathered and it took two officials to calm the flaring tempers. Arango was rightly shown a straight red and Nimo a yellow. Bizarrely, Sanchez escaped without punishment other than the free kick.
For the last 4 minutes of the game and injury time it was a possession-fest by the Timbers as they extended their lead in the 88th minute. Hayes took a corner kick that found the head of Timbers leading scorer, Mandjou Ketia.
The 4th official announced 4 added minutes of injury time and one could only hope that Minnesota would kill the clock. However, only a few minutes after Melvin Tarley was subbed into the game he retaliated on Portland by sweeping the legs out from under a Timbers player. He came in for the tackle with no intention of going for the ball and saw a straight red for his efforts, the third ejection of the game for Minnesota, showing a total lack of self-control.
Portland made the Thunder pay for the foul as Scot Thompson scored on a corner from Josh Cameron. Tempers flared again as Minnesota contested that the referee had never blown his whistle to give the OK for the kick. The Thunder players surrounded Referee Laudani and a livid Nic Platter was rewarded with a yellow card. Thankfully the game ended soon after the ensuing restart.
Credit should go to a much improved Portland Timers who played well the entire match, even though they recently came off a long road trip and a US Open Cup game on Tuesday which was also away.
The refereeing crew deserved a D for their performance as they lost control of the game and the Minnesota Thunder an F-, mainly for their lack of discipline but also being outplayed across the board.