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Portland owner fined for criticizing referee on Twitter

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NEW YORK (AP) Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has been fined by Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber for criticizing referee Baldomero Toledo after a 3-2 loss to Orlando on April 8.

The league announced the fine Monday but did not disclose the amount.

Portland led 2-1 when Orlando was awarded a penalty kick after contact between Timbers defender Alvas Powell and Orlando forward Dom Dwyer. Sacha Kljestan converted the penalty kick in the 82nd minute, and Dwyer scored five minutes later. Toledo did not use the Video Assistant Referee to review the foul.

Paulson tweeted after the match: “No way in a million years thats a penalty. Disgraceful. How do you not VAR that. Tried it once early but he got us in the end Joke.”

Timbers, Thorns Stand Together for unique volunteer effort

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While World Cup qualifying grabs the headlines, players from the Timbers and Thorns are going to work – wielding paint brushes and shovels.

For the past six years, the Timbers organization has staged Stand Together Week, a massive volunteer effort – recognized by the city of Portland – that involves players, front office staff, supporters and anyone else who wants to join in.

Partnered with Hands on Greater Portland, the team identifies nonprofits that need help then unleashes volunteers. Scores of projects are lined up on any given day. Even Timbers organization owner Merritt Paulson helped clean and weed a park this week.

[ MORE: USMNT-T&T preview ]

Most professional sports teams and athletes do charitable work, but it’s unusual for an entire team to collectively devote an entire week and help dozens of organizations all at once. The team says that since 2012, Stand Together volunteers have devoted 12,631 hours of service at more than 163 events benefiting kids and the environment.

Paulson said the Timbers get inquiries from other pro sports teams about how it works.

“A weeklong, city-endorsed celebration with over 1,000 volunteers, and players from all three of our teams – the Timbers, Thorns and T2 – engaged in the community, it’s just unbelievably special,” Paulson said. “And it’s a huge undertaking. When we first did it I remember pushing back on my staff and asking `Are we spreading ourselves too thin?’ and `Do you think people will really turn out?’ The answer was yes, and then some. Each of these events gets filled to the brim with volunteers.”

The Timbers enjoy a unique relationship with the city that dates back to 1975, which the team joined the NASL. The Timbers have sold out 114 matches, and the Thorns have the highest average attendance (by far) in the National Women’s Soccer League.

“We didn’t do it to build a brand, we did it because it’s who we are,” Paulson said. “We take our responsibility to shine a light on areas that could use a little more help extremely seriously, as I think any sports team should. But there’s no question I think that what we’re doing and the way we’re doing it is unique.”

On Tuesday, Timbers players Diego Chara and Victor Arboleda helped out at a development being built by Willamette West Habitat for Humanity.

[ MORE: How will Arena line ’em up? ]

Chara was charged with clearing out invasive berry bushes near the home.

“I think for me it’s spending time in the community, for me that’s the key part,” Chara said. “It’s a different project (than soccer), and I think every player enjoys that.”

Later in the evening, Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri and Thorns coach Mark Parsons were among those who helped paint two visiting rooms at the Beaverton, Oregon, offices of the Department of Human Services.

As Parsons detailed a mural, a fellow volunteer asked him if he was an artist.

“Quite the opposite. I’m horrendous,” Parsons said, laughing. “But I try.”

GAME (S) OF THE WEEK: The U.S. national team plays in a pair of World Cup qualifying matches this week. First up is a match Thursday night against Trinidad and Tobago in Colorado. Then the Americans travel for a match against Mexico in Mexico City.

The United States is in fourth place in its six-team group with four points, while Trinidad and Tobago is last with three points. Mexico leads the standings with 10 points. The top three teams from the group qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

Because of qualifying games, many regular MLS players are currently with their national teams.

OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST: There are only three games up this weekend, all on Saturday: Atlanta plays at the Chicago Fire, FC Dallas visits the Timbers, and Sporting Kansas City hosts Montreal.

HONORS: FC Dallas winger Roland Lamah was named the Player of the Week for his three goals in a 6-2 victory over Real Salt Lake last Saturday. It was his first pro hat trick.

Meanwhile, Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic was voted Player of the Month by the media. He had six goals and an assist in May, while the Fire went 4-0-1.

Nikolic leads the league with 11 goals this season.

CANADIAN PRIDE: Sixteen-year-old Vancouver midfielder Alphonso Davies had a big Tuesday. Not only did his become a Canadian citizen, he got called up to the Canadian national team.

“Not many people can say they’re a Canadian citizen, knowing that it’s one of the best countries in the world. I’m very proud that I’m one of those people,” he said in a statement after passing the test. “I’m also extremely thankful to my parents for everything they’ve done throughout the years, carrying the family to this safe environment. This is our home. This is where I grew up. And now to have the opportunity to represent the men’s national team is a great honor.”

Davies will join the Canadian team for a training camp in Montreal in advance of an exhibition match against Curacao.

Davies, whose parents fled Liberia, was born in Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana. The family moved to Canada when he was 5 years old.

Paulson questions Berhalter’s “breach of code” in speaking out on trade offer

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Toronto FC has to move Matias Laba soon thanks to their surplus of Designated Players. The young Argentine can play, and TFC is hoping to put him on loan somewhere else in Major League Soccer.

So, they’ve been looking at their options and apparently one was Trillium Cup rival Columbus. The Crew didn’t have much interest, which is fine and happens all the time in the world of trade offers. What wasn’t fine was head coach Gregg Berhalter going public with their lack of interest, saying Laba’s season wasn’t great and his contract was too expensive.

And it’s got a number of people in an uproar, including Portland owner Merritt Paulson.

In an exchange with another Twitter user who replied to his Tweet, Paulson said Berhalter’s public response was “such a breach of code.”

It’s hard to side with Paulson and fellow critics of Berhalter’s actions. What was the Columbus coach’s purpose? Was he trying to play antagonist to Toronto? Was he being critical of his own club’s budget? Either of those are uncool for a variety of reasons. Berhalter made waves for American coaches with his gig at Hammarby, but the waves he’s making in America, in this instance, aren’t going to be welcomed.

Portland’s Merritt Paulson talks about real grass, adding terraces to Jeld-Wen Field

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Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson is clearly always thinking about two of the elements that could further enhance the Timbers brand: a real grass field and just a little more capacity for a great ground that does fall on the “limited capacity” side.

Trouble is, both are tricky, and for completely different reasons.

Speaking on the Soccer Today radio show / podcast (disclosure, a show I host along with Marc Stein), Paulson told me plans are still being explored of adding a terrace to Jeld-Wen’s North End. That would add to the 22,000-seat capacity (always packed) by several thousand.

Paulson was quite cautious in his phrasing of possibly adding natural grass (rather than the artificial turf), understanding how badly some supporters would love to see this major change. He specifically said that he doesn’t want to mislead folks on this one, but did put the chances of grass at Jeld-Wen within the next few years at “50-50.”

Even considering that Portland’s brand of faux field is the best in MLS, and even understanding that chances of real grass bliss beneath the feet are no better than 50-50, that’s still something to sit up and take notice of.

Artificial lighting could answer some of the concerns; a sunken bowl means Portland would be faced with growth issues that have dogged a few grass fields in MLS and elsewhere in the world.

But he biggest impediment, he said, are the Portland State University football games, which take place right around the same time natural grass stops growing (in the fall, of course). Paulson pointed out that his artificial turf field plays more true than some MLS grass fields once fall arrives and big American football players, plus the seasonal growth cycles, begin exacting a toll.

“Something will have to change” he said before the Portland Timbers could consider the other issue of a grass field: the shared arrangement with PSU.

Paulson had plenty to say in the wide-ranging interview, including thoughts on MLS expansion, on scheduling – and a guarded look back at the Clint Dempsey situation.

MLS’s 2014 All-Star Game is going to be in Portland

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PORTLAND, Ore. – One day after JELD-WEN Field saw the U.S. Men’s National Team open their 2013 Gold Cup, Major League Soccer announced the league’s 2014 All-Star Game will take place in Portland, a surprisingly early confirmation of a host city.

This year’s host, Kansas City, wasn’t revealed until six months before late July’s game against AS Roma. This time, however, the league is not even waiting for suspense to build. Out of nowhere, the league’s committed 12 months ahead of time, with next year’s game set to take place in “late July or early August, 2014.”

“The Portland Timbers and their passionate fans have certainly earned the honor of hosting the 2014 AT&T MLS All-Star Game,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber said at a Wednesday press conference, also attended by Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson and Portland mayor Charlie Hales. “This match will showcase to an international audience the incredible devotion to the game in the Pacific Northwest that serves as one of the most important stories for our league.”

Alluding to Portland as “Soccer City, USA,” Paulson called the event “the first major All-Star Game of any sport ever in Portland.”

“Portland is a soccer town, pure and simple,” according to the mayor. “We are honored that our city has been chosen to host the [game].”

The timing of the announcement was the focus yesterday, when Major League Soccer revealed a Wednesday press conference would be held in Portland. With the city’s mayor set to join Paulson and Garber, it didn’t take James Moriarty to figure out the All-Star Game was coming to Cascadia. Why, however, was it being announced so early?

In the past, getting a team to commit to the All-Star Game meant the franchise would eliminate a date for a potentially lucrative summer friendly, something many teams are unwilling to do so far in advance. Portland, however, has not drawn the likes of Manchester United, Barcelona, and Real Madrid to JELD-WEN. And with a capacity of just over 20,000, it’s becomes cost-prohibitive to do so. The Timbers don’t have to make the same trade offs.

Another issue the Timbers have in luring potential friendly competition to Portland — their fine-but-let’s-act-like-we’re-in-1972 turf — could be a factor in recruiting an opponent to JELD-WEN. While the capacity issue becomes less of a concern when Soccer United Marketing’s willing to absorb the cost in the name of one of the league’s two marquee events, a European club’s willingness play on turf may ultimately reflect our antiquated attitudes. Will MLS and SUM face a “temporary grass or no” ultimatum from a Barcelona-esque club?

(MORE: Steve takes another run at the turf debate in the wake of a complaint-less day at the Gold Cup.)

With today’s announcement coming one year before the game, expect those issues to be put on the back burner. For now, all we know about the 2014 game is that one of the most renown atmosphere is Major League Soccer will host next year’s showcase.