By IVES GALARCEP
Ask most die-hard Portland Timbers supporters about their team’s history, and chances are you should be able to get your share of good information, whether back from the NASL days to the current MLS days. Ask those same fans when was the last time their team received a penalty kick call and you will probably have a much tougher time getting an answer.
Why? Probably because it has been 17 months since the last penalty kick awarded to the Timbers (which Jack Jewsbury converted on Oct. 22nd, 2011). A total of 36 matches, totaling 3,274 minutes have gone by without a referee pointing to the spot for the Timbers, a drought that has fans and the team wondering just what is going on.
To put those numbers into perspective, every other team in the league has had a penalty awarded during that same time span, and teams like San Jose (10 penalties), Montreal (9) and Houston (8) have been awarded a significant number of penalties.
And the Timbers? They are still waiting.
The team’s PK drought even drove owner Merritt Paulson to confront match officials after a match last October that saw a referee award D.C. United a questionable penalty. Paulson erupted on Twitter, and tried to confront the referees at the match. His actions led to a $25,000 fine.
“All season long…not a single damn pk awarded to us,” Paulson wrote via Twitter. “Numerous cut/dry blown calls. And let’s give DC a gift for good measure.
Paulson’s complaints came off as sour grapes, but two games into the 2013 season, the Timbers and their fans have reason to scratch their heads at the PK disparity after seeing referees miss potential penalty calls in both of the Timbers first two matches of the season.
In Portland’s season-opening draw vs. the New York Red Bulls, Andrew Jean-Baptiste was pretty clearly pulled down in the penalty area:
Then last weekend, against Montreal, Ryan Miller looked to have been struck in the penalty area, but no call was made:
So why isn’t Portland getting any calls? One theory is that referees are trying their hardest not to be influenced by the crowds at Jeld-Wen Field and are therefore calling a disproportionate amount of calls that aren’t going the Timbers way.
That one seems like it might be far-fetched, but the two missed calls this year both came at Jeld-Wen Field. In fact, of the 36 matches Portland has gone without drawing a penalty kick, 25 of those matches were played at Jeld-Wen Field. Considering the loud and sold-out crowds the Timbers regularly draw, you would think the atmosphere at Jeld-Wen would help push a referee to give the home team a big call here or there.
The reality is very different. Not only haven’t the Timbers received penalty calls in their past 25 home matches, they have seen opponents be awarded a total of four penalties at Jeld-Wen Field during that same time span. That kind of disparity is enough to drive fans crazy, and was enough to drive one owner to lash out at MLS referees.
Could referees really be over-correcting and trying hard not to be sucked in by the atmosphere and pull of the crowd in Portland? That seems far-fetched, but it does seems much more plausible than any notion that MLS referees are purposely making calls against the Timbers. Such conspiracy theories aren’t even worth considering.
As some have noted below, there are a variety of factors that go into how many penalties a team draws. While that is true, the number of questionable calls does make you feel that either MLS referees are trying too hard not to seem like they’re being influenced by the crowds at Jeld-Wen Field, or the Timbers have some of the worst luck in MLS history.
It is true that penalty kicks aren’t exactly awarded all the time, but when you consider the number of questionable no-calls that have gone against Portland, and the fact that 76 penalties have been awarded in MLS since the last time the Timbers drew one, you can understand why folks in Portland might be wondering just what it will take to see a referee point to the penalty spot.