Winner: Corey Baird
Corey Baird didn’t change the result of this game all on his own, but it’s hard to see RSL walking away with a point without him. He absolutely created the fourth goal with some close control and ingenuity, and his cross in to Damir Kreilach on the second was placed perfectly.
Of course, I’d be remiss to not mention Baird’s opener for RSL, which was a tidy finish at the near post. He brought us back into the game on three separate occasions, He absolutely deserves the player of the match award, in my book.
Loser: Andrew Putna
After winning the starting goalkeeper spot from Zac MacMath for some particularly poor goalkeeping at MLS is Back, Andrew Putna may have just handed it right back to the MLS journeyman with an extremely poor showing against Portland.
With Portland’s first goal, he passed the ball directly into pressure, and RSL conceded post-haste. With their fourth, he simply didn’t read the good defending from Nedum Onuoha and left his near post open when his center back had the far post covered well.
The third goal? Well, there was no defending that one. It was a golazo if there ever has been one in MLS. Oh, and the second goal? That came off Maikel Chang’s head. Nothing to do there, either.
But with four goals conceded and five shots on target, there should be questions asked about Putna and what it means for him moving forward.
Winner: Sam Johnson
Before you even get to his game-tying goal, Sam Johnson’s substitution impact was felt pretty immediately. He brought a level of intensity and focus that was missing, and you saw it in the yellow card he earned only moments after coming on the field.
I get it: Johnson has been dropped in favor of 1) no clear striker, 2) youth, 3) players playing out of position — and he’s one of RSL’s better paid players. But when he came on, he showed that he had something to prove, and my word, did he prove it. That last-gasp finish, putting the ball past Steve Clark to tie the game 4-4, was a thing of true beauty.
I don’t know if Sam Johnson will start on Wednesday in Salt Lake City, but I do know that he has very firmly put himself at the front of Freddy Juarez’s to-do list. He has a decision to make.
Winner: Giuseppe Rossi
I understand a little more why Rossi hasn’t played much, but from the sound of it, he’s maybe not in quite the same position I am. (Which, well, is fair. He is a professional soccer player. I am writing about soccer on this website. There is a very clear distinction here that he’d probably be mad if I ignored.)
Anyway, he played just six minutes, but those six minutes were extremely impactful. He had a couple smart passes, including one into the box that led to a good opportunity. Like Sam Johnson, he’ll have been itching to play, but there are more question marks over Rossi after going two years without playing professional soccer. Will he start Wednesday? I still wouldn’t count on it, but I also wouldn’t rule it out at this point.
Winner: Justin Meram
We are starting to see the Justin Meram that we wanted when we signed him, and it should be no surprise that it took him a bit of time to adjust. But he’s playing with a bit of verve and style, he’s defending well, and he’s proving an influential figure that makes players around him better. If that continues, I suspect he will quickly find himself in a regular starting position.
Winner: Freddy Juarez
There are two things I’d like to touch on here.
First, Juarez has kept this team focused under ridiculous circumstances twice now. In the first instance, he kept the team focused and improved it when Mike Petke was fired for repeatedly yelling a homophobic slur at a referee. Now, he has kept the team focused only days after their owner went on an ugly, ill-advised rant decrying a protest from players, with allegations of a history of racial abuse coming shortly thereafter. The players were focused, and even if they gave up a shocking four goals, they also scored a shocking four goals.
Second, I know it is easy to focus on Juarez’s substitution patterns as a talking point, and I understand the motivation. But tonight, he waited until his Portland counterpart had made his moves before making his. That isn’t always the right approach, but it allowed him to regain control of the match. Now, there is of course an argument that more proactive substitutions could have made a difference earlier in the night, but there are absolutely different philosophies on how to do this. I think he got it right here, but I also think there were several right answers.
Finally, it must be said that when there aren’t games every three days, Juarez will find himself in a bit of a selection crisis, should players continue their upward trajectory. It will absolutely be an interesting one.