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As drought stretches over three seasons, Timbers still waiting for a PK call

TimbersRef (Getty)


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.


  1. Add another no PK call to the list for this year alone for the scissor take down in the box yesterday vs Seattle. Incredible.

  2. Refs everywhere are under pressure to put a halt to diving. I’m guessing that the thought process was something like, “That looked like a foul, but I’m not absolutely certain, so I’d better not call it in case it was a dive.” Now if they would only apply this to Lenhart….

    With the good TV angle, we can easily see it was totally a pull-down (on Jean-Baptiste) or a push (on Miller), and a foul. The assistant (sideline) ref should certainly have called the one on Miller. Wish soccer used more refs period to have better coverage (hello FIFA?) .

  3. “In fact, of the 36 matches Portland has gone without drawing a penalty kick, 25 of those matches were played at Jeld-Wen Field.”

    How is this possible when they played 17 away games in 2012? I believe there have been 17 away games and 19 at Jeld-Wen since their last PK call.

    Point being–they don’t get penalty calls on the road away from the Army either.

  4. Get lenhart and your PKs will increase dramatically. Come to think of it Wondo should be thanking lenhart for that goal record tie.

  5. Occam’s razor: league wide conspiracy to deny Portland PKs or timbers’ D is filled with hacking hacks whilst the strikers are poor actors and/or nowhere near the box.

    Or neither–the most probable.

  6. Refs are scared to make a bad call against Portland opponent because they will look like they are being influenced by the crowd. Just one more reason why Seattle’s fans are better: they’re know to be loud but not too loud.

  7. Full disclosure: Timber fan here.

    With that out of the way, I think it is a more systemic MLS and soccer refereeing issue at play here and the Timbers just happen to be the statistical outlier that highlights it.

    There is nothing in the Laws of the Game that says what constitutes a foul (and thus penalty) in the box needs to rise to some higher level than what constitutes a foul by a player at midfield or by a forward going to goal. Yet time and time again you see refs completely willing to call a foul for a little bump at midfield or a forward fighting to get a head on a cross and both he and the defender equally make contact with each other and both go down. Yet in the penalty box there is some kind of unwritten rule that if the foul isn’t brutal enough or the player probably wasn’t about to score (for example getting hacked down out at the wide edges of the box while dribbling or attempting to control the ball rather than a clear 1v1 with the keeper going in to score). This is true no matter what league you watch but I think it is even worse in MLS than most leagues. I also think this is part of MLS’ reputation as a physical league — the subtext is that the defenders are often allowed to get away with fouling you when you hold the ball deep in their area because the refs are too timid to make a call.

    I think the second clip above also strongly highlights a separate issue – diving and ref baiting. It is pretty clear from the clip (and other photos elsewhere that show the same play from the side) that the defender pushes Ryan Miller from the back with a hand between his shoulder blades. Yet the defender immediately throws his hands up as if to say “didn’t touch him” (when in fact he did) and the entire Montreal team immediately starts lobbying for a yellow card to the player for diving (which in fact he didn’t). The Ref makes no decision at all but it had to be one or the other. He calls a goal kick. In that very same game, Darlington Nagbe was given a yellow for a foul which was in no way reckless or with intent to injure (both players going for a loose ball and Nagbe won the ball but came down on the Montreal player’s foot). Montreal player stays down … and it seemed pretty clear the ref wasn’t even going to blow a foul initially until he stayed down, then not only does he blow for a foul late he gives Nagbe a yellow because of the show put on.

    I think American soccer fans have little appetite for diving / faking injury. Jean-Baptiste and Miller popping right back up sadly probably hurt their chances for a penalty call despite the fact that both were fouls. I think these simply highlight that referees are taking WAAAAYY too much into account when making calls. They need to simply call fouls, the ramifications of the location of the foul are the issue of the fouling team to deal with not for the referee to attempt to mitigate during play. They are allowing themselves to be influenced too much by player reactions after the play and not calling what their eyes see and ears hear with the actual play.

    As a Timber fan I certainly hope that for my team’s sake we have some kind of karmic reversal here and suddenly get 10 PKs in the next year while SJ, Houston and Seattle get zero and frustrated beyond belief, but with the uneven refereeing in MLS (even by the same ref in the same match) I am not counting on it.

  8. Does this count just MLS matches? If I remember correctly Boyd BOTCHED a pk last season in our nasty loss in the open cup?

    • Yes, this is just MLS. CalFC attempted to gift us the game with an obvious handball off a cross (defender arm out deflecting the cross at quite a distance from the player crossing it), yet Boyd put the PK into the top rows of 107.

  9. This a great article, in light of the fact our season would be 1-1-0 if we had hot those penalties on our first two matches. Instead we have one point…… Yes, UNO. And when you look back at last season and when the no calls were called how many of those were matches we lost by one or it changed the momentum of the game in our oppositions way. I hope the Mls refs read this and it gives them strength to grow balls and ref the timbers at home with equal decision

  10. You sometime have to wonder the extent of the Asia matchfixing mafia? Could something like that occur in the MLS? Just even a little bit?

  11. Jewsbury missed his PK on 10/22/11. Put it off the bar if I recall correctly. Futty scored the tying goal on a assist from Umoney.

  12. yeah they got a bit screwed / bad luck. also probably something to do with being poor offensively… when you aren’t possessing the ball in the opponent’s box much you won’t get pk’s. should start to get some with porter’s new system… they seem to be better offensively now especially with valeri running the show

    • An if you read the article you’d see they STILL aren’t getting the calls. the first 2 games each had an instance of a missed call.

    • This (admittedly young) season, Portland leads the league in shots and possession and has had the ball a whole lot in the box. The two video clips are from this season.

      I am not a conspiracy theorist, I just think it is bad refereeing league wide (and to some degree game wide — see long post below) and Portland sits on the far end of the bad luck bell curve with refs who are too timid to call actual fouls a PK and are also willing to authoritatively make a bad guess other times for a PK.

  13. Good reporting Ives, I had no idea how long Portland had gone without a PK. I did see both no calls in their first two games, though, and both were BS. The refs will have to call one now that you wrote this, as a way of preventing their opponents from taking advantage of them.

  14. The second clip says it all, look at the refs reaction he is scared to do anything. And if it’s not a penalty how in the world is that a corner kick?

    • That is a very good question. The New York player clearly never touched the ball. He’s knows he didn’t touch it and is letting it roll out. It’s either a PK or a goal kick. Corner makes now sense.

    • I applauded Troy Perkins in his return before the game. I miss the guy as he was one of those players who just fit in and “got it”. I did lose a little respect (but I realize it was all just gamesmanship) when he immediately went over and got all in Miller’s face about diving and it was incredibly clear that the ref was intimidated into not making a call. The parade of Montreal players asking for a yellow card for a dive (when Perkins and the defender both knew it was a foul and a PK) worked well and I have to give Montreal some credit for playing the referee like a fiddle during this match. Dude was putty in their hands.

  15. Timbers fan here (so take this with a grain of homerism salt) and I must say, there were times last season were it did feel like there was an intentional effort being made not award PKs to the Timbers. I mean, some clear, cut and dry instances of incidents in the box just being outright ignored. And not just in Jeld-Wen (though, that’s where it happened the most). Also, as someone else mentioned with the whistle before the Cahill goal in NY last season (I’m also a Red Bulls STH and my seas is at the end of the stadium that play occurred at and the whistle was clearly blown before the shot) it’s not just missed PKs the Timbers have to deal with, there seems to be an increase in overall Ref incompetence (or maybe intentional ignorance) during Timbers games.

    • John, I have heard that statement from several people. My reply has been that if you are running at full speed and someone comes up from behind you and pushes your head, you WILL go down… Plus, the rules stipulate that a “blow to the head” should bring a foul and a possible yellow card because the head is “supposed” to be off limits…. I know I have seen multiple fouls called for MUCH less “inadvertent” contact to the head.
      I do believe the PK’s will come as long as the Timbers keep attacking the goal and put 20 shots a game in, like they have the first two games.

      • No, a blow to the head is supposed, by MLS rules, to be a RED card. Witness Thierry Henry’s tap (literally, a tap) on the head of someone in 2011 that resulted in a red card. MLS is trying to be strict about head blows.

        In addition, the two-arm hit on Miller denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, as there was no one between Miller and the opposing keeper. That’s a second ground for it to be a red card. It’s incredible that it wasn’t a red card, wasn’t a yellow card, and wasn’t even a foul. Incredible.

      • I wasn’t entirely sure about the no-call on Miller vs. Montreal until I saw this photo. As Twellman would say (and probably multiple times), “You have GOT to be kidding me!”

  16. PTFC is probably still paying the karma from the four PK attempts we were awarded against DC United in 2011 on only one foul .

  17. Mildly meaningless without a chart showing every team in MLS. As my father-in-law sociology professor likes to say, “Anecdotal evidence is NO evidence.”
    Still, good noticing!

    • I’m late with a reply, but there were 72 PKs taken in MLS in 2012. For the 18 teams who had an attempt, that’s an average of 4 per team. The high was MON with 9 (and 9 conversions!), followed by San Jose (8), and Houston (7). The lows were Portland (0), Vancouver (1), and four teams with 2.

      So while zero PK attempts in a full season is fairly unusual (only happened 3 times previously in MLS), it’s not uncommon for teams to have only a few over the course of a season. As Kejsare stated above, the fact that there were a few really borderline PK calls that opponents were awarded made the disparity particularly frustrating.

  18. I guess the really interesting stat would be some measure of “number of blown PK calls.” Portland may be an exterme case for PKs awarded, but it may be that they create very few chances in the box. It may be that teams that were awarded plenty of PKs would have been awarded even more PKs but for blown calls. That is, of you’re creating lots of chances in the box, you are likely to get lots of PKs as well as lots of bad calls that should have been PKs.

    • So then look at it in terms of proportions. Look at *percentages*, not raw numbers.

      If team X creates 100 chances in the box and gets 10 calls, that’s 10%.
      If the Timbers only create 10 chances, but get 1 call, that’s still 10%.

      You’re correct in saying that “more chances could yield more calls”, but look at the numbers. Are you seriously suggesting that in 36 matches, there weren’t enough chances that even ONE could have yielded a call? No way. Especially after teh Jean-Baptiste incident against New York.

    • Brian, IF you look at the last two years, (2011/2012) I would have to agree with you on the “not being in position to draw PK’s”… BUT through the first two games of this season, Portland is the number one team in shots taken (20/game) and in both games (see clips above) there were blatant “no calls” where it would be obvious to first year officials to point to the spot. I believe though, that the PK’s will come if this Timbers team keeps putting the ball on frame as they have in the first two games.

  19. Good article.

    I do think part of it is the poor offensive production of the Timbers getting into the right position enough. That said, there appears to have been some incredibly poor no calls, and a few calls, that were dubious to say the least, for the team opposing the Timbers…

    • Then again, converting PKs are part of offensive production. Ask Wondo who now owns a piece of the goal record, ironically enough in Portland on a PK.

      Assuming 90% of PKs are converted, there is a good chance Portland beats RBNY 4-3 and draws with Montreal 2-2 and we are talking about the very promising 1-0-1 (4 pts) Timbers with an incredible start rather than the disappointing 0-1-1 (1 pt) Timbers who are dominating offensively but making defensive errors and not converting enough shots. PKs are easy shots and easy to convert (for all teams).

      • PK’s are so easy to convert? Just ask Kenny Fing Cooper about being replaced by Jewsbury on the last Timbers PK. Or Boyd missing that PK against Cal FC. Nothing is coming easy for the Timbers

  20. Good article. Part of the reason we have not received many penalties (at least in 2011 and 2012 seasons) is that our offense was anemic and not often in the oppositions’ penalty box, but it’s getting a little ridiculous now. I think it’s just a matter of time now.

    • +1. was going to say i didn’t necessarily agree with ives boiling it down to “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.”

      there are a host of factors that go into how many pks your team will get.

      • That’s fair Nate, but given the number of calls Portland hasn’t gotten that they had very good claims for, there is certainly room for considering those two as two possible reasons

      • How and why Jean-Baptiste didn’t get a PK will go down as a major “WTF” moment for this season.

        I simply do not comprehend how that came to pass.

    • On the flip side about three or so questionable PKs went against the Timbers squad last year (even a blown whistle before Cahill’s strike that still counted), which doesn’t help amelioriate the perception.

    • maybe, but i thought this was a good story. had no idea it had been so long. and i can understand the complaints about not getting pks called, if it’s clear they should be.

      i have less sympathy for paulson’s complaints about pks awarded against portland: are you fouling in the box? well, stop.

      • I believe this to be correct. I can’t recall who it was the Timbers were facing, but a bad call for a hand-ball led to a PK that put the timbers down a goal late in the second half.

        Fortunately at the time, the Timbers were able to rally to get a draw, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time. We needed those three points… and, well…. to not lose away from Jeld-Wen twelve times in the season. That might have helped.

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