[REF WATCH: MLS PLAYOFFS] The first legs of the conference semifinals were dissimilar in their style and scorelines, yet each of the four games in its own way presented nettlesome situations for the officials. Here’s a glimpse at some of what the referees and their assistants had to deal with during the weekend.
TYRONE’S PK. Ten minutes after Teal Bunbury glided past him to score Sporting Kansas City’s first goal in its 2-0 victory over Colorado Sunday night, Rapids defender Tyrone Marshall had to chase down the second-year striker again.
Trailing by half a step as Bunbury arrowed for the goal, Marshall didn’t reach out an arm to hinder or impede his opponent as defenders will often do. But as he brushed Bunbury from behind, the SKC attacker toppled to the ground. The contact wasn’t severe, nor was it clear that Bunbury had actually been tripped or grabbed, but as he hit the ground the whistle blew.
In such situations, if referees believe a foul has been committed, they are instructed to send off the offending player for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity, and that is what Baldomero Toledo did. Bunbury converted the penalty kick and SKC held out against a 10-man opponent to win the first leg.
A FIFA panel headed by Franz Beckenbauer has proposed FIFA change its directives in these situations, reasoning that the combination of a penalty kick plus a red card is too severe a punishment. He prefers a caution if the PK is awarded, unless the foul is so reckless or heinous it would merit a dismissal anyway, or in the case of a handball committed by a defender on or near the goal line to prevent a goal being scored.
But the tricky aspect of this situation is whether or not a foul was committed, and this is where a referee’s judgment will always be scrutinized. Toledo was up with the play and though his view of the incident was unobstructed, it was from behind the players, and thus from his vantage point Bunbury’s exaggerated fall might have influenced his decision.
ROUGH STUFF. A match of 23 fouls and six cautions might have included more of both, as Philadelphia and Houston banged each other repeatedly in a 2-1 Dynamo win at PPL Park in their conference semifinals first leg.
Referee Jair Marrufo set a rather tolerant tone in the fourth minute when a chest-high kick at the ball by Gabriel Farfan caught Dynamo midfielder Danny Cruz in the chest and Marrufo let him off with a caution. Marrufo had the right spirit in mind to not send off a player so early in a playoff game, yet Houston felt a red card was warranted even though it scored from the ensuing free kick to take the lead.
Four more cards were issued before halftime – Cruz took some revenge by clattering into Michael Farfan, which may have been a case of mistaken identity, and received a caution – as tensions escalated. A hard foul by right back Sheanon Williams and angry reaction by Dynamo midfielder Adam Moffat earned cautions for both of them. Union midfielder Brian Carroll took the final caution for a reckless foul in the 65th minute.
Marrufo and his crew missed a blatant handball by midfielder Brad Davis in the 54th minute. Stationed behind Houston’s defensive wall on the near-post side of his goal inside the penalty area, with his right arm extended Davis batted down a Sebastian Le Toux free kick. It was not blasted into his arm from close range nor was it deflected; in those cases, referees are empowered to be lenient if they think the player had no intent to play the ball and could not react in time. This one was simply missed.
THE RUMBLE AT RED BULL ARENA. Red cards issued to Rafael Marquez and Juninho in the aftermath of a melee that broke out Sunday at the final whistle of the Red Bulls-Galaxy will stand up under review, and at least one other player could be disciplined.
Galaxy forward Adam Cristman ran over and shoved Marquez after the Mexican international had thrown the ball at Landon Donovan, and during the ensuing scuffle Marquez attempted a head butt and threw a punch at Cristman that missed as they were dragged apart. Juninho apparently threw an elbow or forearm into the face of Red Bull defender Stephen Keel, who went down with a bloodied nose. Red Bull midfielder Teemu Tainio went after Juninho and is another candidate to be disciplined after further review.
Cristman and other players not carded could be fined when the incident is reviewed, and additional games could be tacked onto the one-game suspensions.
GETTING IT RIGHT. Real Salt Lake’s three-goal barrage against Seattle started with an Alvaro Saborio tap-in that appeared to be offside as he snuck behind the Sounders’ back line. Replays showed him just on-side when left back Chris Wingert slid the ball underneath goalkeeper Kasey Keller; the ball might have gone over the goal line inside the near post anyway, but Saborio nudged it past the line to make sure.
As soon as the ball went over the line, referee Mark Geiger ran over to consult with referee’s assistant Joe Fletcher, and after a brief consultation, Geiger pointed to the center circle to confirm the goal.
A few of the Fox Soccer commentators were adamant even when seeing replays Saborio had been offside, but once a view of the play with an offside line drawn through Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s right foot – the portion of his body closest to the Seattle goal – was shown, there was little doubt the goal should count.