PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers’ season-long frustrations with referees boiled over Saturday night after a controversial hand-ball decision led to a penalty kick and D.C. United’s only goal in a 1-1 draw at JELD-WEN Field.
Linesman Craig Lowry raised his flag on David Horst as the Timbers defender challenged a cross into the box by United midfielder Perry Kitchen. Replays showed the ball flew between Horst’s raised arm and his body, its flight path unchanged. But a penalty kick was awarded after the officials conferred, and forward Chris Pontius converted in the 60th minute.
“At most, maybe a sleeve,” interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson told reporters postgame of the call. “I really don’t know what to say, gentlemen. I have to be careful or I’ll get fined again. The decision to call that a PK is one that has me a little bit wary about where to go and what to say.”
The decision highlighted a season of calls that have left Portland players, coaches and owner Merritt Paulson scratching their heads. Much has been made by the team about the fact that the Timbers are the only MLS side that hasn’t been awarded a penalty kick this season. Wilkinson said Saturday that he has counted seven instances that could have resulted in penalty kicks.
Postgame: Wilkinson, Horst & Songo'o on the match
“Unfortunately when, I believe, that mistakes affect games and change the livelihoods of players and coaching staffs, something has to be done about it,” Wilkinson said. “Here we’ve not had calls go our way for the majority of the season. And that’s not excuses at this stage. It’s just stating facts.”
Head referee Michael Kennedy said after the match that the ball struck the “underside of [Horst's] upper arm.”
Horst voraciously led the Timbers' objections to the call, which ultimately resulted in a yellow card being shown to fellow central defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso.
“In my mind, it was not a hand ball,” Horst said. “But the refs, they control the game, and they called it. There’s nothing we can do about it now. It’s just been our luck all year – we haven’t really gotten anything to go our way. It’s just part of the game; we’ve got to deal with it.”
One positive that did come out of the controversy was the way in which the Timbers responded, furiously pushing forward to earn the equalizer. That finally came by way of Bright Dike’s goal in the 79th minute.
Portland fired off seven shots after falling behind 1-0, while D.C. didn’t attempt one.
“If anything, it [ticked] us off even more and got the guys fired up a little bit,” Horst said. “And we didn’t give up at all. We got after them even more and got the goal back and kept fighting.”
Wilkinson said the response to the call is a testament to the fact that his team hasn’t given up as their disappointing season draws to a close. Now, Wilkinson said, it’s a matter of taking that fight on the road next Sunday to Seattle in a game that could decide the Cascadia Cup.
“They felt that they had been hard done by,” Wilkinson said. “They felt that they have probably dealt with enough of this this season. And they’re response was a positive one. … It just goes to show a lot about the guys at this stage of the season and what we’ve got to fight for. And I think the fans are absolutely tremendous, and it’s the player’s way of showing them that they truly do care.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.