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Kreis' comments raise pertinent issues
by Ridge Mahoney, April 27th, 2012 1:19AM
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TAGS:  mls, real salt lake, referees


By Ridge Mahoney

Another close call went against Real Salt Lake Wednesday in its 1-1 tie Wednesday, and another pointed criticism from Coach Jason Kreis followed.

But how he criticized the officials in that match and a 3-1 loss in San Jose last weekend points out an added burden brought about by expansion. More teams bring more games and just as is feared among some fans and journalists that the process dilutes the caliber of players with a limited talent spool spread wider, so too can it affect the quality of officials.

Commenting on a penalty kick called on defender Tony Beltran, who was adjudged to have handled the ball while slipping to his knees in the penalty area, Kreis said, “I am again disappointed in another referee’s decision. I have not watched the replay yet. For me, there is just no way that can be called a penalty kick.”

As he had done last weekend when two RSL players were sent off with straight red cards in a 3-1 loss at San Jose, Kreis followed with some very pointed words: “Someone who reads the game or is involved with the game more knows that is never a penalty kick.”

Referee Geoff Gamble was working his 11th MLS game, which is only of statistical interest, since plenty of coaches and players and team executives will tell you officials with many years of experience make some of the worst decisions. The referee for the San Jose game, Elias Bazakos, was working his 22nd MLS match, and Kreis obviously felt that even with twice as much experience as Gamble, he didn’t do so well, either.

“We’re taking a position in our league this year that we need to get some new, talented referees, and in order to do that you need to give guys like that an opportunity, and then hopefully correct their mistakes,” said Kreis outside the RSL locker room at Buck Shaw Stadium.

“My big hope is that this week and hopefully through the next 10 days or so that folks who do the teaching are going to be doing do a lot of teaching with him.”

Bazakos sent off Fabian Espindola for a two-footed lunge on which the RSL forward may have lost his footing as he challenged for the ball, and dismissed Jamison Olave for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity when he jostled Steven Lenhart as they chased a ball played over the top.

Down to nine men, RSL battled to keep the score at 1-1 until two stoppage-time goals sealed the result. In addition to praising the defensive resilience of his team and an excellent goal scored by Kyle Beckerman, Kreis gave his versions of the two ejections. Though biased, they aren’t off-base.

“I had the worst angle on Fabian’s ejection,” said Kreis. “It’s always tough when two players slide into a ball together and you end up ejecting one. I would have to assume that Fabian exposed his cleats and that’s the reason he’s ejected, but from where I stood I was shocked to see [Bazakos] going to his back pocket so quickly.

“All I’m saying is that Espindola I didn’t see it, so it was shocking when there’s two players that slide in like that that you send one off. I thought maybe he was going to send them both off because they kicked each other or something, I had no idea what was going on.  The Olave decision, I don’t know again. I think if the last defender makes a foul in that way you give the referee a choice. And this one seemed to show us all night the choices he was going to make.”

That last comment echoes similar diatribes during Kreis’ first few years as a head coach. In addition to winning an MLS Cup (in 2009) and imbuing RSL with an attractive and successful playing style, Kreis has learned a diplomatic yet direct method of dealing with officiating issues.

When he took over as head coach four games into the 2007 season, he rather quickly established a reputation of trotting out comments to the effect of, Woe is us, the league is against Real Salt Lake, just about every a time a bad call went against his team. That act grew tiresome in the press, yet on the training field and in the locker room it’s not the first time “us-against-the-world” struck a chord. RSL is one of the league’s best teams, year after year, and while they can be physical, they can also play good stuff.

He’s not so much toned down that approach as found ways to address specific issues. He will most likely be fined by the league for these public criticisms of officials. Yet he’s not completely wrong.

From this corner the verdicts are: a) Espindola always goes in hard and his reckless reputation may have influenced the decision, yet this was a bad foul, a borderline red; b) Lenhart may have been bumped by Olave though not grabbed or tripped, yet the ref believed a foul had been committed; and c) bad call, the ball bounced off Beltran and a nearby teammate and then rebounded onto his arm as he slipped.

One can quibble about Kreis’ interpretations of specific incidents, yet irrefutable is his assertion that along with other growing pains of an expanding league, officiating continues to be one of the most daunting. And as is the case with players, coaches, executives, broadcasters, etc., for officials at the pro level, there’s no substitute for experience.

  1. James Denson
    commented on: April 27, 2012 at 12:50 p.m.
    Why does SA continue to popularize the notion that officials win or loose matches? If a team loses 1-0 on a poor penalty kick call, why couldn't they score a goal? This attitude trickles down into the youth game and is one of the reasons we see officials take such abuse. You article makes it sound like Jason Kreis is justified.
  1. Tom Enone
    commented on: April 27, 2012 at 1:33 p.m.
    The Olave red was annoying to me even as a neutral. The referee saw a coming together of the players and made the call. He didn't see any "challenge" by Olave, because there was none, and he didn't see Lenhart grabbing Olave's shorts initiating the contact and then going down. I can't blame Lenhart for this, because even though it can be viewed as cheating its almost second nature to many strikers. And in some ways I can't blame the referee because he did not have the best view. But how was he so sure it was a red card? Don't you have to be sure?
  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: April 28, 2012 at 10:26 a.m.
    Mr. Fonseca makes a good point, however, some of the MLS refs in the center aren't able to do a consistent job. Too many times they disregard physicality outlawed by the game and give the AR no authority whatsoever to make obvious calls. Too many times they swallow the whistle when thwey should be ascertive. Granted, sometimes they have a bad day, but the lack of consistency and league oversight is a matter of delinquency.
  1. Kent James
    commented on: April 29, 2012 at 6:41 p.m.
    Ric Fonseca is right; people who've never refereed are sometimes a bit too quick to criticize. One should also not condemn a ref for one bad call; how many decisions did the ref get right? Referees must make literally hundreds of decisions a game (foul, no foul; foul trifling, let them play or stop the game; foul advantage, play on etc.), many of which are not obvious. Unfortunately, some calls will make a difference in a game (and sometimes refs get these critical calls wrong). But the performance of a referee should be based on their performance throughout the game, not a single controversial call. Additionally, many of us want to see more skillful soccer, which means referees need to crack down on fouling, and doing so, requires issuing cards. Assuming referees won't be perfect, the question then becomes should referees err on the side of issuing too few cards (which would tolerate more violent play) or too many (punishing players too harshly)? I'm of the opinion that an extra card or two won't hurt anyone, except that a red card can change the dynamic of the game. I think to correct that, the rules should change so that an ejected player can be replaced (as long as the team has subs), so that the individual is punished but the team is not (and more importantly, the dynamic of the game is not changed, especially early in the game). I would also stipulate that on a play denying and obvious goal scoring opportunity, in addition to the red card, a penalty kick would be awarded, so that a player would not be inclined to "take one for the team" by taking out a player who would otherwise have an opportunity to score. If teams were not forced to play short, red cards would be less controversial (and referees would have less hesitancy in giving them).
  1. Scott Olesen
    commented on: May 5, 2012 at 11:07 a.m.
    Shameful you would give so much attention to Kreis who has become one of the biggest, self righteous, biased whiners in the league. Get over yourself. MLS aren't good but many of them aren't bad either, and in every league I watch around the world mistakes are made constantly. It is probably THE hardest game to ref in the world and you should know better than to give Kreis such a platform for him to verbally vomit about it just because calls have gone against him in those game. Kreis is a great coach but has become worse than Arena in crying to the press when things go wrong.

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