By Paul Gardner
Way to go Alexi! For telling it like it is. “A botched call,” said Alexi Lalas in tones that brooked no ifs or buts or maybes. He was speaking on ESPN and referring to referee Ricardo Salazar’s decision right before halftime in the Houston-D.C. United playoff game.
DC’s Raphael Augusto, who was about to break clean through the Houston defense, went down under a comprehensively clumsy assault by Houston’s Andre Hainault. As poor a challenge as you’ll ever see. Without that foul -- and a foul it unarguably was -- Augusto would have been in a 1v1 situation with the Houston goalkeeper near the edge of the penalty area ... an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
The rules are clear about this: if a defender commits a foul and thereby denies an OGSO, he has to be red-carded. Salazar was well-positioned, his vision was not blocked by other players. Yet he waved play on. Incredible.
A botched call indeed. A horrible call, or non-call. One that, in all likelihood, has decided this two-game series in favor of Houston.
The problem for Salazar, I have to assume, was that obligatory red card. But that’s what should have happened. Hainault should have been ejected, the Dynamo should have been playing with 10 men in the second half. No, of course we don’t know how that would have affected things. The Dynamo is a remarkably resilient team and I cannot imagine them falling apart. Nevertheless, I feel quite comfortable saying that, reduced to 10 men, the Dynamo would have been unlikely to run out 3-1 winner. One thing we do know for certain is that Hainault would not have been around to score, as he did, the tying goal.
I praised Salazar just a couple of weeks ago for exemplary refereeing of a Seattle-Real Salt Lake game. I might be praising him again now, for he actually had a pretty good game -- were it not for his colossal error which overshadowed all else. D.C. United had every reason to feel bitterly aggrieved -- though exactly how an experienced pro like Pat Onstad feels he is helping matters by getting himself thrown out for protesting is inexplicable.
Strange things followed the incident. NBC commentator Arlo White told us, as the second half began, that he had just “had a chat with” Peter Walton, the new referee chief. According to White, Walton had explained things as follows: “If there was a foul, it is not DOGSO (denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity).” His reasoning being that another Houston defender [Luiz Camargo] was near enough to, in White’s words, “potentially repel the attacker.”
This makes no sense. Camargo was at least 7 yards away from the incident. If Augusto had not been pulled down he would have raced on into the penalty area -- a distance of, say, 8 yards -- with only the goalkeeper in front of him. An unarguable OGSO.
Augusto had a 7-yard start over Camargo. Are we supposed to imagine Camargo could turn on the burners so that, in the same time that it took the pretty speedy Augusto to cover 8 yards, Camargo manages to get in front of, or at least alongside, him by covering twice that distance?
Come on, guys, let’s be real!
I’m also baffled by Walton’s reference to “benefit of the doubt,” which he made in an interview with MLSSoccer.com after the game. Persisting with his feeling that Camargo could have “influenced” the play, Walton says that “the benefit of the doubt would go to the defending team in a situation of a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.”
That’s sad to hear -- though I do not know where that particular ruling comes from. I’d be interested to find out, as it seems to me to run counter to what I had hoped was a general trend toward giving the benefit of the doubt to attacking players.
But it does seem to me that Walton has a beef that he should take up with his bosses (whoever they may be) at PRO, the Professional Referees Organization. In his postgame interview he explained that he was speaking without “the benefit of reviewing a replay.”
Well, good gracious, where on earth in the stadium is PRO seating its top man that he doesn’t have access to at least one TV screen, or more probably, a battery of them? Anyway, we do know that he did “chat with” NBC’s Arlo White during halftime -- presumably out in the corridor.