BEAVERTON, Ore. – It’s been a challenging start to the season for the Portland Timbers, and according to head coach Caleb Porter it’s only been exacerbated by the officiating in his team's games.
Following Tuesday’s session at the team training facility, the Timbers' first since their 2-1 defeat Saturday against FC Dallas, Porter didn’t hold back when discussing a series of calls and no-calls dating back to their 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids the previous weekend.
He called the dual red cards handed out to defender Michael Harrington and FC Dallas midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson “ridiculous,” said his star forward Darlington Nagbe, who left the FCD game at halftime, is being excessively and intentionally fouled while referees do nothing about it, and claimed a linesman made three offside calls in the first half in Colorado that were incorrect.
“We just expect the officials to do their job, just like I’m expected to do my job,” Porter said.
Porter stressed that he’s not making excuses for the team’s dismal 0-2-2 start, which includes two straight losses, but he said he shouldn’t have to be preparing for this Saturday’s showdown with rivals Seattle Sounders at Providence Park (12 pm PT; NBCSN) without two of his key players in Harrington and Nagbe.
The first call in question occurred against FC Dallas when a linesman stopped play in the 39th minute to ask that referee Sorin Stoica issue red cards to Harrington and Watson for an off-ball incident. Both Harrington and Watson later claimed there was nothing more than innocuous shoving exchange.
Harrington’s red card, the first of his career, ended his consecutive minutes streak at 1,710 minutes. Had he played the full 90, he would have tied a Timbers team record.
“From what I’ve seen on the video it’s basically two guys bumping into each other,” said Porter, who said the team is submitting video to the league office and appealing the red card and subsequent suspension. “It’s something that happens in every game all over the field. There were many plays in that game way worse than that. For me, I don’t know how that call is made. I don’t know why it’s made.”
Porter said the video shows the linesman made the call from 25 yards away.
“The linesman need to focus on calling offside and onside, not trying to flag red cards 25 yards from the play,” Porter said.
He then added that one of the linesman in Portland’s loss to Colorado on March 22 called three offside infractions in the first half that he claimed video later showed were onside.
“It’s again these guys trying to prove their worth but for things that aren’t there instead of trying to call offside,” Porter said. “That’s really what their job is. … Their job isn’t to be the show.”
In the case of Nagbe, Porter said officials should be doing a better job of protecting his 23-year-old forward. Nagbe, who Porter said picked up a “knock” against FC Dallas and the team is “definitely preparing to play without,” has been fouled 14 times in four games, which is on pace to break the league record of most fouls conceded in a season of 112 set by Alejandro Moreno in 2006.
Nagbe was fouled a league-high 83 times over 34 games played during the 2013 regular season, almost double the number of fouls he suffered in 2012 (46).
“He’s continuing to get targeted, he’s being kicked all over the field in every single game and the officials aren’t doing anything about it,” Porter said. “Why are they not protecting him? I don’t know.”
Porter said he counted three times where Nagbe had his legs “kicked out from under him” in the first half against Dallas. Nagbe pulled up lame late in the half, remained on the field but stayed in the locker room after halftime. If he misses the Seattle game with an injury, it would break his streak of 52 games started and 72 games where he was available for selection.
“When you’re the most fouled player in the game and you’re getting kicked up and down the field in every single game and the referee doesn’t do anything about it to protect one of the better players in the league eventually you’re going to get a knock and you’re going to get hurt,” Porter said. “And that’s what happened. And it’s a real shame.”
Perhaps channeling US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who recently came to the defense of Seattle Sounders forward and USMNT captain Clint Dempsey for being fouled too often, Porter said that could change in a few years.
“Why is a quality young player like Darlington Nagbe not being protected?” Porter said. “The good thing is in a couple of years he’ll get his citizenship and now he’ll wear the national team badge and probably then he’ll for sure get protected. But for right now, the refs aren’t doing anything about it. And if they’re not going to do anything about it, people are going to keep obviously adopting that tactic.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.