[REF WATCH] Aside from perhaps the brandishing of a red card, no incident triggers more hot disputes than the shrill trilling of the referee's whistle as he points to the penalty spot. Yet more often than not, the defending team has been guilty of lax tackling or lazy marking prior to the alleged foul that prompted the spot kick.
Perhaps that's the reason vehement protests arise once the referee's gesture confirms what the whistle indicates: the guilty players are mired in a double jeopardy of permitting a dangerous situation to unfold, and then resorting to foul measures in desperation.
Of course, sometimes the players believe passionately the referee has besmirched the game forever with his decision, and to varying degrees, they can be right.
The 12 games played from the Fourth of July to last Sunday yielded six penalty kicks, all of them converted successfully and each of them instructional.
DONOVAN-MARTINO DUET. Two penalty kicks were called in the Galaxy-Chicago match on Independence Day, and both were duly converted by Landon Donovan for the only goals in a 2-0 win. Thiago was cautioned after Ivan Guerrero tripped, or nicked, Kyle Martino for penalty kick No. 2 for a relatively mild protest, although he did point to the scoreboard imploring referee Brian Hall watch the replay.
The first penalty, whistled when Chris Armas apparently clipped the feet of Martino as he dribbled into the box, occurred after C.J. Brown had been burned by a quick Martino cut and tried to stop him with a jersey grab but failed. Referee Hall could have called that foul, but opted to let play continue, and was directly behind Armas, who was right behind Martino when the Galaxy midfielder lost his balance and Hall blew his whistle.
Whatever contact had been made between Armas and Martino was slight and Hall, directly behind both players, didn't have a great angle but was very close to the play. Brown, of course, barked furiously at the referee's decision.
On the second penalty, Martino dribbled just inside the left-side edge of the penalty area. Guerrero stuck his leg out but pulled it back as Martino approached and even turned slightly; again, the contact was minimal yet Hall blew the whistle.
Keeper Jon Busch threw up his arms in disgust but most of his teammates barely reacted. In the 87 minutes played to that point, they'd taken only two shots, neither of which hit the frame, so defeat seemed inevitable.
TFC TIRADES. Earlier on the Fourth of July, two of the three goals in Toronto's 2-1 vanquishing of Real Salt Lake came from the penalty spot, courtesy of referee Jair Marrufo.
Alecko Eskandarian equalized from the spot just before halftime after he'd been bull-dogged in the penalty area by Chris Pozniak, who grabbed Eskandarian over the shoulder as he drove toward goal and eventually dragged him down.
Irate TFC players surrounded Marrufo, who could have cautioned several players, in particular the always feisty Ronnie O'Brien, but chose only to book Pozniak for dissent.
TFC got its own penalty kick with 11 minutes left, when Jean-Martial Kipre pulled down Collin Samuel, who'd been played through after a giveaway by, yes, Kirpe, who to his credit didn't argue at all.
Players often argue calls not to change the referee's mind, but perhaps to influence his next critical decision. This wasn't the case here; Marrufo got it right with both penalties. Protests also delay the taking of the kick, an obvious psychological ploy to unnerve the kicker.
Three days later, TFC defender Tyrone Marshall body-blocked Fire forward Chad Barrett off the ball in the box and referee Mark Geiger pointed you-know-where. The ensuing protest netted captain Jim Brennan a yellow card.
Chicago and Toronto lead the league with four penalty kicks called against them this season, so they've had plenty of practice reacting to the refs' decisions.
At least TFC has been consistent. Remember the first PK it conceded, in the 4-0 loss to New England April 14? Andrew Boyens grabs Adam Cristman's jersey and basically throws him to the ground; then-TFC midfielder Paulo Nagamura is cautioned for dissent.
KOTSCHAU'S CLUNKER. The winning goal in the Crew's 2-0 defeat of Real Salt Lake Saturday came from the penalty spot, Guillermo Barros Schelotto performing the honors after defender Ritchie Kotschau tripped Andy Herron in the box while the pair chased down a throw-in.
Kotschau initially seemed to have the situation covered when he shielded Herron from the ball, but as Herron powered past him the defender started to lose his balance, tried to slide-tackle the ball out of danger and instead caught Herron's legs. The whistle blew and Kotschau could do nothing but look disgusted.
Not every guilty party has reacted so reasonably so far this season.