Seattle can consider itself hard done by. In the opening playoff game it came up on the short end of some decidedly poor decisions from referee Ricardo Salazar.
One, in particular, was of the game-deciding type. How on earth could Salazar allow Houston goalie Pat Onstad to stay on the field after he had solidly chest-bumped Fredy Montero to the ground. Can there be any doubt that Onstad used excessive force, which is the criterion for a red card?
We're back in the world of the invulnerable, untouchable, unpunishable goalkeepers again. In the past couple of weeks we've had the Revs' goalkeeper Matt Reis bringing down Chicago's Chris Rolfe for an obvious penalty kick and a red card to Reis -- an incident that ended with Rolfe getting a yellow for diving. Referee: Jorge Gonzalez.
Then we got the Red Bulls' goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, at full speed, launching himself off the ground with both feet into Toronto's Chad Barrett -- resulting in Barrett having to leave the game. No call at all on this one. Referee: Alex Prus.
And now we have the Onstad incident. Referee: Ricardo Salazar.
Whatever is the matter with the referees and the referee overseers here? It cannot be accidental that these three fouls were treated so lightly. I am quite sure that if a field player had committed any of these assaults he would have been ejected without further ado.
So, if it is not accidental -- and I repeat, how can it be, when the fouls are so flagrant? -- then it must be the result of one of two things: either a policy among USSF referees to go light on goalkeepers; or an unstated attitude among USSF referees that this is the way to do things, and they can only get an attitude like that from their bosses.
Either way, the USSF is initially to blame for not making it clear that this sort of refereeing is simply not acceptable. And MLS shares the blame for not kicking up a stink about these rotten calls.
In the three assaults mentioned above, all three goalkeepers should have been ejected. But the only card was a feeble yellow shown to Onstad. It would be interesting to know what that was for. If it was for the initial contact with Montero, then it has to be a red, for excessive force was clearly involved. If not that, then for what? And why was Onstad leaning low over Montero on the ground? And why was Onstad suddenly holding his head? What message was he trying to convey?
This is all absolutely extraordinary behavior from a vastly experienced player. Certainly it was out of character, but that should not be allowed to cover up the fact that Onstad should have been red-carded.
But all he got was a caution. I don't know for what. But does it matter? I called it "a feeble yellow" and that's exactly what it was. A yellow card to a goalkeeper is meaningless. When was the last time you saw a goalkeeper get two yellow cards in a game? I'm not sure that I've ever seen it.
Salazar got no better. In the 23rd minute, Brian Ching plowed recklessly into Leonardo Gonzalez. An obvious yellow card. But Salazar merely gave Ching a talking to. Telling him whatfor heaven's sake?
Three minutes later Salazar came up with yet another be-nice-to-the-Dynamo call. Ricardo Clark managed to kick Nate Jacqua on the eyebrow. Jacqua is 6-foot-4 tall, incidentally, and he was not stooping. Clark got to him with a prodigiously raised foot. He drew blood. About as clear an example of dangerous play -- and therefore an automatic yellow card -- as you could imagine. Yet Clark went unpunished.
But the real problem here is this leniency toward goalkeepers. Every goalkeeper in MLS must now be well aware that he can get away with almost anything when it comes to physical assault on an opponent. He may even be able to get his victim punished. Reis managed that -- and so did Onstad. Montero got a yellow -- for what? Falling too easily? Hey, maybe it's difficult to stay on your feet when you're 5-9 and 162 pounds, and a 6-4, 215-pound goalkeeper slams into you.
At halftime in the Seattle game, Rob Stone told us he had spoken with the estimable Joe Machnik, the MLS referee chief, about the non-call on Onstad. From what Stone said, Machnik -- uncharacteristically -- was pussyfooting around the issue, even mentioning intent, which is irrelevant.
With nothing but key games coming up in MLS from now on, one abysmal call -- this one at the expense of Seattle -- is more than enough. A clear statement from the USSF and MLS telling us that there will be no more of this bending of the rules in favor of goalkeepers is needed.