I'm not sure that I believe what I just saw. A normal match report will definitely not suffice for such a ridiculous series of events. Therefore, I present to you New York Red Bulls come back to salvage draw with Portland Timbers or Ricardo Salazar is a terrible referee.
Act I: The Innocuous Beginning
In this first act, the Red Bulls begin brightly, with a couple of chances in the early minutes before Austin da Luz scores his first professional goal after a lovely pull-back from the left by Dwayne De Rosario. New York looks comfortable, dominates possession, and looks the more likely to score throughout much of the first half. The Timbers are flat, with their only opportunities coming from set pieces and several poor giveaways by the Red Bulls. New York goes into the half-time break 1-0 up, looking set to extend their lead after halftime.
Act II: The Game is Turned on Its Head
After a first half in which they were distinctly second best, Portland come storming out after the interval and quickly have New York on the back foot. They are level four minutes into the second half after a clearing header from Teemu Tainio drops for Jack Jewsbury to blast in past Greg Sutton. Just a minute later, Eric Brunner heads a Jewsbury free kick across the face of goal for Kevin Goldthwaite to flick in with his heel. From 1-0 up to 2-1 down in front of a raucous Jeld-Wen™ Field crowd, the Red Bulls are in trouble.
Act III: Out of Sight
The Red Bulls aren't just pinned back, they're hanging on for their dear footballing lives after Portland takes the lead. Tainio keeps New York in the game with an overhead kick clearance off the line before Sutton stops Jewsbury from scoring a second. The Timbers are not to be denied, continuing to pour forward as the Red Bulls can't keep the ball or get out of their own half, and Portland profits from that pressure as Stephen Keel puts a ball across the face of goal from Jorge Perlaza into his own net to give his former team a 3-1 lead. The Red Bulls are dead and buried.
Act IV: The Glimmer of Hope
They may be playing like condemned men in defense, but New York somehow fashions a chance to get themselves back into the game with a delightful interchange of passing between Thierry Henry, da Luz, and Joel Lindpere that culminates in Henry blasting past Troy Perkins for 3-2. Three minutes later, the cemetery grounds crew starts throwing back the dirt they just dug off the corpse of the Red Bulls' chances in this game as Sutton trips Perlaza in the box and concedes a penalty kick. Their back-filling doesn't last long, though, as Jewsbury smashes his spot-kick against the post, keeping Portland's lead at just a single goal.
Act V: What were the Football Gods smoking when they came up with this?
With just over ten minutes to go, the Red Bulls are still one goal down, and they can't seem to keep the ball in the attacking third. Wayward passes and poor concentration end counterattacks, allowing Portland to bring the ball back towards the New York penalty area, where cheap free-kicks from Ricardo Salazar allow it to remain. To cap off a spectacular performance from him (which puts him miles ahead of the fantastically terrible Terry Vaughan in this week's Atrocious MLS Refs Power Rankings), Salazar decides to send off Thierry Henry for patting Adam Moffat a bit hard on the back of the head after the two players had made up. Then, with the Red Bulls down to ten men, a poor touch from Goldthwaite gives the ball to De Rosario on the right wing; his cross is handled in the box by Rodney Wallace, and New York finally gets a break from Salazar, who points to the spot. De Rosario steps up to take the penalty, and blasts it powerfully past Perkins to level the scores in the sixth minute of stoppage time. As Football Weekly's James Richardson would say, woof.
The Red Bulls picked up the draw that I had predicted and hoped for, but did so in incredible fashion. From dominant to under the cosh to level at the death, last night's game was probably one of the craziest in the history of MLS. Next, New York heads up the Pacific Coast to take on Seattle Thursday night, without Thierry Henry and (probably) Luke Rodgers. The Sounders have sold almost 45,000 tickets for the game, so the atmosphere at Qwest Field should be intense. Fortunately for the Red Bulls, Dane Richards will be back after Jamaica lost to the USA on Sunday afternoon, and he should provide some badly-needed speed in the attack. Now I'm going to go breathe into a paper bag.
Selected Statistics (NY-Portland)
Passing Accuracy: 83%-75%
Total Passes: 400-356
Open Play Crosses: 9-19
Fouls Committed: 25-5 (Salazar is a joke of a referee)
Shots (On Goal): 7(3)-11(3)