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Does 8=10? Looking back at a strange decision from Portland’s win over Toronto

Sep 8, 2013, 6:12 PM EDT

Screen shot 2013-09-08 at 3.09.21 PM

Perhaps the final score was more lopsided than we would have predicted, Portland recording their biggest win of their MLS era, but the result was no surprise. The Timbers beating Toronto at JELD-WEN Field wasn’t news. It would have been news if had they lost, but although the victory ended a tough stretch where Portland had played Real Salt Lake and Seattle (one-two in the West) four times in 24 days, the result was still par for the course. Particularly at home against a team that plays as conservatively as Toronto, Portland was always bound to dominate.

That’s why the story for this post isn’t goals by Kalif Alhassan, Rodney Wallace, Will Johnson and Diego Valeri, Portland’s midfield firing in the Timbers 4-0 win; rather, it’s something stranger that happened in the first half, something even rarer than a four-goal win in Major League Soccer.

A first half foul by Toronto left Portland with a restart on the right wing just inside their attacking third. After Armando Villarreal spotted the ball with a dab of white paint, he began walking off 10 yards. From the press box, however, you could see he was off-line, walking toward the center of a scoreboard that sat over 20 yards behind the field’s south goal. When the match official realized he was off, he simply took two stops to his left, drew the line, and let the wall setup.

You don’t have to be a geometry major to figure out why this could be problematic. Villarreal could pick out the perfect angle to maintain the 10 yards he’d walked off, but with such a casual correction, he was more likely to left with a situation like this:

From soccercommericals.gom

Will Johnson, after Villarreal declines to re-walk the distance, walks it for him, noting the referee’s line was drawn only eight yards away from the ball. For his efforts, Johnson received a yellow card for delaying the game and was eventually left to blast Portland’s restart into the ill-placed wall.

Most complaining you hear about Major League Soccer refereeing is exaggeration and cliché. Most complaining you hear about any sports’ officiating is exaggeration and cliché. It’s kind of what sports fans do.

But sometimes, there’s no judgment call to be made. There’s no interpretation required. Walk 10 yards toward goal and draw a line. Among all the difficult, sometimes near-impossible things referees have to do, this is among the easiest.

And when somebody points out you’ve done it wrong, “my bad” is the right response. Not yellow card.

The yellow was Johnson’s fourth of the year. One more, and he’ll be suspended.

Here are full highlights of last night’s match:

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