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Unfair Playing Field: Orlando City's Uphill Battle

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After four games and numerous decisions not going our way, we take a look back and see whether or not we are being paranoid or whether when Orlando City takes the pitch, are we actually stepping onto an unfair playing field?

Alan Kelly takes the field for the New York Red Bulls v New England Revolution game
Alan Kelly takes the field for the New York Red Bulls v New England Revolution game
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

There has been much ballyhoo written about -- and by -- Orlando City supporters, bloggers, and commentators relating to the "unfair" treatment that the Lions seem to be experiencing on the pitch. The postmortem pieces written to cool the heads of angry fans who aren't used to losing have ranged from the tough love, "get used to it, we're in MLS now," to the gentler, "being a supporter means taking the winning with the losing."

I get it. It's statistically impossible to always win. Look at Manchester United -- a team that managed to live at the top of the tables for so long and seemed unbeatable, until Sir Alex retired. And then Man U fans learned the tough way what losing feels like (and all other EPL fans rejoiced in the Red Devils eating crow).

I have watched -- with no exaggeration -- thousands of hours of football in my lifetime. Growing up in Newcastle, every weekend's match was either watched in person or on the telly. I live this sport. I know what a foul looks like, I can see a red card call a mile away, and I can explain the offside rule to even the most uninitiated (it's a party trick).

So, with this in mind, I am throwing this out here: what if our losses aren't just sour grapes, but instead, Orlando City is actually being treated unfairly on the pitch?

I'm the first to admit when we play badly and, when a call goes against us, justifiably, I take it on the chin. But let's look at statistics from weeks 1-4 to see how our bad calls stack up and why (Spoiler Alert: we're getting screwed).

Week 1 - Orlando City vs. New York City FC

No Lions fan is going to quickly forget Alan Kelly's name. He's the unqualified pleb who was inexplicably assigned our inaugural match in order to see if he could "play ref." No one probably needs a reminder, but we drew 1-1 in that match after several shockingly bad calls, including three yellows for "simulation" and a questionable red card for Aurélien Collin (if it had been anyone other than David Villa, it would have been a yellow).

The simulation calls received a lot of discussion after the match and painted our players in a bad light with comments like, "is Orlando just a bunch of divers?" Consider this: In Week 1, across 10 games, only three yellow cards were issued for simulation and 100% of those were against Orlando City. Week 2 saw only one yellow against Vancouver Whitecaps' Octavio Rivero across eight matches, and Week 3 was the same, with one yellow for diving against Houston's Giles Barnes out of eight games played. Week 4, thus far (as of the time of publication Sunday's matches have still yet to be played) have zero calls for simulation.

For those who like math, that's five yellows for simulation, over 34 games played, and 60% of those cards have been shown against our purple-clad lads.

Week 2 - Houston Dynamo vs. Orlando City

Watching this away game on TV was hard. No one heard me screaming at the set when Kaká was continuously brought down by deliberate and dangerous challenges, which went un-reprimanded by Chris Penso and his officiating team.

Comparing Collin's send-off from Week 1 when David Villa went down, under the same reasoning, Kaká's takedown by Garrido, which didn't even merit a yellow, shows a massive inconsistency with how our players are treated. Molino's four fouls suffered, along with Darwin Ceren's hacking down by Ricardo Clark, were all obvious moments during the game where our boys were blatantly playing against 11 men and three officials.

However, the most egregious uncalled challenge of the night, which was discussed for days afterwards, was the horse-collar-into-the-net take-down of Pedro Ribeiro by Tyler Deric. It was only by luck and Ribeiro keeping his balance, that he didn't face-plant into the goalpost and knock himself out.

No question, Deric should have been off. Regardless of the OG which negated the clear penalty kick that should have been given, the fact that Deric was never flagged for that ridiculous defending (called "dangerous play" in the rule book) can't help but make City fans question the fairness of the playing field.

We may have won 1-0 but it's a hollow victory when you go back and re-watch all of the opportunities which were stolen from us through bad calls.

Week 3 - Orlando City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

This one still smarts, doesn't it? The fact that four minutes of extra time in the 90th suddenly became six, which allowed for the Whitecaps to score -- and win -- just hurts. The fact that Octavio Rivero was awarded "Goal of the Week" for that insult makes it seem like the whole league just wants to eff with us.

Had it been a draw, I would have still walked out of the Citrus Bowl cursing and blinding the yet-again, appalling referee decisions. All of us who have eyeballs saw the insane foul by Kekuta Manneh against Collin, all of us -- except the refs (who belong on OBT). So much so, that when the MLS disciplinary committee met this week, they suspended Manneh one game for "serious foul play that endangered the safety of an opponent."

We were also all watching when Diego Rodriguez, who was marking Collin for a corner, came over and "man-handled" him, which sent Collin to the ground in a heap. The ref brushed it off, but the disciplinary committee saw it as much more severe and gave Rodriguez a two-match ban and a fine.

Week 4 - Montreal Impact vs. Orlando City

The injustices continued in last night's game when a foul was called on Sean St. Ledger for an unintentional handball during a corner kick, resulting in a PK which put the Impact up 1-0. In the majority of instances an unintentional handball is a foul that is claimed but never called. St. Ledger did not intentionally place his hands there and reach out to touch the ball, as the foul requires, rather it was merely a case that his hand was in the wrong place when the ball made contact with him.

The other incident of questionable refeering, and Kaká was certainly not pleased about it,  was getting the FT whistle called whilst we were playing in Montreal's 18-yard box. It is virtually an unwritten rule that this shouldn't happen and after playing Vancouver last week where ET,  appeared infinitely flexible (to cater to their attacking play), it seems unfair to Orlando that the whistle should be blown at that inopportune time when its in their favor, and we were certainly in the position of taking the lead.

These incidents aren't, individually, enough for us to be paranoid about how we are being treated as the NKOTB. However, viewed in the "totality of the circumstances" (busting out some legal jargon), there is enough here to warrant a legitimate discussion about why we are getting short shrift.

So, if you have been feeling really miserable about our start to the season, and the "suck it up" pep talk just isn't working for you, you're not alone. We should be upset about the bad calls, the missed calls and the late calls. We should be annoyed that our players are getting beat down and the other side is getting away with it. We should be yelling and screaming and cursing the refs.

To my mind, it's totally justified. However, the optimist in me thinks that maybe we are just getting hazed and I hope that our initiation is almost over.