By Ridge Mahoney
It's been another rough week -- counting last weekend’s games -- for MLS referees, yet as always, there's been plenty of well-warranted criticism but painfully little praise to those who deserve it.
Six Wednesday games offered up some juicy tidbits for discussion.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter fumed after a late penalty kick enabled FC Dallas to tie his team, 1-1. Porter claimed a foul called on defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste was a classic case of selective officiating by referee Juan Guzman, reminding us that players are pushing and shoving each other all the time.
Yes, players grapple and grope each other on set plays, but this was an extreme case and not on a free kick or corner kick. During an FCD attack, Blas Perez initiated contact by shoving Jean-Baptiste with his outstretched arms several seconds before Cooper crosses the ball from the right side. In a strange dosey-do, defender and attacker lock arms and spin each other around as the ball sails past them and Perez winds up on the ground.
The best call here would have been a no-call, since Timbers keeper Donovan Ricketts collected the cross and both players were equally guilty once the wrestling bout ensued. However, it seemed Guzman saw only the end of the dance, with Jean-Baptiste’s hands pulling Perez’s jersey as the FCD forward toppled. Had he spotted Perez’s double stiff-arm when the ball was played wide to Cooper, he could have blown the whistle right then and awarded Portland a free kick for a pushing foul on Perez.
A wild finish at Red Bull Arena provided great drama and unfortunately for TV viewers, a badly botched interpretation.
Analyst Shep Messing couldn’t untangle the sequence of events by which Marco Di Vaio banged a shot off both posts in stoppage time. Unfortunately, so mangled was the commentary that the eagle-eye assessment of assistant referee Bill Dittmar didn’t rate a mention. So here it is.
The Impact had closed to within a goal at 2-1 on a Di Vaio goal early in stoppage time, and pushed downfield again a couple of minutes later in search of an equalizer. As a cross floated into the goalmouth, Di Vaio was a yard or so beyond the Red Bulls’ back line in an offside position.
Though Di Vaio could have been construed to be in the play, a few yards away and not offside was Hassoun Camara, who got his head to the ball and nodded it square. The flag stayed down. To reach the ball as it bounced, Di Vaio dropped a yard or so back, and hit a remarkable left-footed shot that caromed off both goalposts and so excited the announcers they’d failed to spot that Dittmar had raised his flag as the ball was headed by Camara.
When Di Vaio struck the ball he was behind Camara and not in an offside position. But when Camara’s head met the ball, Di Vaio was still a foot or so beyond the last defender, and Dittmar should be lauded for interpreting this nettlesome situation spot-on correctly.
Another late flurry on a ball looped into the penalty area livened up the final seconds of the Revolution-Real Salt Lake game, and referee Jose Carlos Rivero didn’t handle it well. He called a handball on RSL’s Carlos Salcedo even though the ball actually struck Tony Beltran on the arm, probably accidentally, and also sent off Salcedo for a second caution.
Salcedo did have his arm extended in the direction of the ball but didn’t touch it before or after Stephen McCarthy lunged and missed Juan Toja’s cross. This play should be reviewed and Salcedo’s red card rescinded. If it was a case of handling the ball, which is also debatable, Beltran is the culprit.
A rare occurrence followed: Nick Rimando saved Saer Sene’s penalty kick without violating the restrictions on goalkeeper movement before the kick is taken. He shuffled his feet along the line and when the ball was struck dived forward to turn it aside to preserve a 2-1 RSL win. Well done by Rimando, who had Sene sussed out from the get-go, and the officiating crew for not annulling a perfectly proper penalty-kick save.