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Portland Timbers critical of MLS Cup officiating decisions leading to Atlanta goals

Dec 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) goes down as Portland Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala (33) reacts during the first half in the 2018 MLS Cup championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

ATLANTA — The Portland Timbers weren’t happy with the pair of goals they conceded during MLS Cup for a variety of reasons. But the one resounding thought in the visitors’ locker room after the 2-0 loss to Atlanta United was that they were done in by officiating calls. 

The opening tally netted by Josef Martinez in the 39th minute was ruled a good goal by the officiating crew, led by referee Alan Kelly, despite some shouts for offside. 

“I have to look at it back,” Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella said. “That’s just one of those things that it’s a bit unlucky. We clear the ball and then we unfortunately have a little trouble moving it up and the next thing you know,(Martinez)’s picking someone’s pocket. I think a lot of the bounces and a lot of the things have been going our way in the playoff run. For something like that to happen, it ran out a little bit.” 

On the play, Atlanta centerback Michael Parkhurst won the ball on a sliding tackle against Portland forward Jeremy Ebobisse and it landed at the boot of Martinez, who moved past Ridgewell after what appeared to be a slight deflection off the foot of the Timbers centerback. 

In addition to the ball coming off Ridgewell, a defender on the left flank kept Martinez on side. 

“First of all, I think it’s a foul on (Ebobisse), and then the ball gets played through and then it ends up at (Martinez’s) feet,” Ridgewell said. “I thought he was in an offside position, but it wasn’t to be.” 

“That’s what Martinez does,” Timbers right back Zarek Valentin said. “He didn’t do anything else in the game. He barely touched it and they barely connected passes, but that’s why he’s the goal-scoring champion of MLS. He puts the ball in the back of the net when he needs it most.” 

The frustration from conceding the first goal was amplified by Portland’s belief that it kept Atlanta’s attack at bay for the majority of the first half. 

“I thought we had a great game plan,” Valentin said. “They didn’t generate much and I think in talking to a few of their guys after the game, they said we deserved to be there. We’re frustrated.” 

Even down a goal, the Timbers felt a sense of belief in the locker room at halftime because of past victories in which they came from behind.

“I thought it was going to be the story of the playoffs for us so far,” Attinella said. “We came out in the second half and knew we were in a spot we’ve been in the whole time.”

Despite creating pressure in the final third during the opening stretch of the second half, the Timbers were put in a precarious situation when Larrys Mabiala was called for a foul for using a high boot challenging Martinez in the 53rd minute. 

“That foul, I don’t know about that one. He got a lot of the ball,” Attinella said. “And then for that to lead to that goal killed the game from there.”

Said Ridgewell: “I think you can talk about a lot of fouls on the night and say they weren’t fouls. (Diego) Chara got kicked in the head and he didn’t get a foul. He goes down and loses the ball, they go down and then Larrys gets a foul for kicking (Martinez) in the head.” 

The ensuing set piece resulted in a clever display of skill, with Miguel Almiron picking out the head of Martinez, who flicked on to a sliding Franco Escobar at the right post.

“Nonetheless, it’s disappointing to lose a goal on a set piece,” Ridgewell said. “We pride ourselves on that and (Martinez) got a flick on and (Escobar) got around the back post and credit to him, it was a terrific finish.” 

After the second goal went into the net, the Timbers felt deflated and couldn’t recover in a contest they entered with what they thought was a solid gameplan to grab their second MLS Cup. 

“It sucks,” Valentin said. “It’s difficult to swallow because if they had played us off the field, kudos, you give them a golf clap and it is what is. If they play out of the back and complete 40 passes and score a goal, then we can live with that. But when the goals just happen the way they do, it makes it tough to swallow.” 

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