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Handballs, Red Cards and Comebacks: A (Short) History of Timbers-Red Bulls

If it happens once, it's an accident. Twice, a coincidence. And three times? A trend.

Steve Dykes

The New York Red Bulls and the Portland Timbers have only met three times in MLS play.

But each time it's been a bit...bizarre. To say the least. The Red Bulls have never lost to the Timbers, but it's taken stoppage time goals and comebacks and (admittedly) favorable calls to do it. The all-time series has seen crazy red cards, broken noses, and a number of penalties both made and missed.

The old saying goes if it happens once, it's an accident, twice it's a coincidence and three times a trend. If that holds true, we might be in for a wild one Sunday night.

June 19, 2011, Timbers 3, Red Bulls 3: We've All Gone Temporarily Insane

The first one was probably the craziest.

Austin Da Luz, who was later traded to D.C. United and now plays for the Carolina Railhawks, opened the scoring in the fifth minute. The Timbers equalized in the 48th minute off the foot of "club captain" Jack Jewsbury from just inside the box. The Timbers would take the lead just a minute later off a set piece thanks to former Red Bull Kevin Goldthwaite. The Timbers would get a brace in the 68th minute thanks to an own goal former (USL) Timber Stephen Keel (and now, former Red Bull).

What proceeds is a comedy of errors. Twenty minutes-worth even.

Thierry Henry puts one away in the 73rd minute to bring the Red Bulls within one, which set off a scuffle over the ball in Troy Perkins' goal. The confrontation earns Rodney Wallace a yellow and seems to set Henry off. A few minuets later, Jorge Perlaza "earns" a penalty kick after getting on the end of a through ball after he throws himself over Greg Sutton's (gigantic) body while trying to knock it past him. Sutton is yellow carded for really giving it to the ref before being bailed out by the post when Jewsbury steps up to take the penalty. The Timbers almost pull two goals ahead, but Kenny Cooper (remember him?) was offside.

Then, four minutes of stoppage time where everything beings to slip from soccer into pure, unfiltered ridiculousness. Henry gets a straight red for patting Adam Moffat (who got a yellow card for the incident) on the back before whacking him upside the head. Two minutes later, the 10-man Red Bulls draw a penalty after a Dwayne De Rosario (yeah, he was on the team, then) cross into the box hits Rodney Wallace on the arm. De Rosario finishes, and brings it even at 3-3. And that's where it would stay.

Fun fact: There are only two Red Bulls on today's roster on the match day roster for this game.

Sept. 24. 2011, Red Bulls 2, Timbers 0: We're Playing Handball Now

The Red Bulls, with seven wins, seven losses and 15 (!) draws, played host to the Timbers in what's really the teams' mildest match-up. The Red Bulls needed a win to get into playoff position, and they duly delivered, putting them two points clear of the Timbers for the tenth and final playoff spot.

The Red Bulls were really in control of the game from the start and never really let up. They scored in the 20th minute thanks to a Dane Richards' skillful tough-angle goal. The Timbers only real chance came from a 57th minute scramble in front of goal.

The controversy came in the Red Bulls' second goal. In the 62nd minute, someone -- Futty Danso? Kalif Alhassan Cooper? -- gets whistled for a handball off a Red Bulls corner. Luke Rodgers steps up and finishes, giving the Red Bulls a brace and all three points. In the box score, it was Alhassan was judged to have "denied a goal scoring opportunity" and shown a red for his troubles.

Looking at the replay, it hit Danso in the elbow and Alhassan in the shoulder. It sort of looks like Cooper maybe may have hit the ball with some part of his arm. It's not entirely clear where Messing gets Cooper from, but he's pretty adamant about it when you watch the replay.

Whether or not any of that contact constitutes a deliberate handling of the ball is questionable. Timbers fans might argue they could've come back down one goal, but when you only have two shots on target and only see 43.7 percent of the ball, it's not likely.

Aug. 19, 2012, Red Bulls 3, Timbers 2: Two-Nil and You F$#%ed It Up

In typical 2012 Red Bulls fashion (some of which has bled over to 2013), they gave up an early goal. This time around, it was Bright Dike in the 8th minute. The Timbers put away a second in the 32nd minute thanks to Darlington Nagbe.

Already, down 2-0 to the basement dwelling Timbers.

Then, in the 42nd minute, the Red Bulls get one back. Jan Gunnar Solli hits a cross which finds the head of early substitute Cooper, who's got a white shirt on this time, and the back of the net.

The Red Bulls would get one back before halftime when -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- things start getting weird. Tim Cahill lays the ball off to Dax McCarty (a Portland Timber for something like 10 minutes) who takes a shot. It hits an arm in the box, rebounds to Cahill's feet and as the Aussie takes a shot, referee Jason Anno blows his whistle for the handball. The ball goes in, but before Cahill nets his first goal, there's mass confusion.

Cahill wasn't sure if he should go beat up on the corner flag or not. Timbers Interim Head Coach Gavin Wilkinson looked exasperated. The only one who looked like he had any confidence that the goal was, in fact, a goal, was Anno as he's chased back to midfield by Jewsbury and David Horst. Hell, even the stadium ops guys didn't know whether or not to start How You Like Me Now.

Bill Gaudette keeps the Red Bulls in the game, making a few very good saves before Heath Pearce put the Red Bulls ahead with an 82nd minute goal off a Solli cross.

Oh, yeah, and in the second half Cahill broke the nose of now-teammate Kosuke Kimura. Awkward.

If the trend holds up, Sunday's nationally televised season opener will be a crazy affair. Both teams have a new look (to be fair, the Red Bulls always have a new look) and new styles. But that's no remedy for ridiculousness.

Statistically, there will be a penalty kick (three in three games), a few yellow cards (eight), a red card (two), some kind of confrontation, be it between players or players and the ref (three) and some late game heroics (two games were decided with goals in the 80th minute or later).

Fights, discipline and comebacks aside, the biggest storyline -- two new rosters figuring out their styles with rookie head coaches -- could make this a fun game all on it's own.

But if it happens three times...