By Paul Gardner
Some seven months ago, writing on the day before the 2013 MLS Cup final between Real Salt Lake and Kansas City, I commented that KC defender Aurelien Collin "... is physical to the point of recklessness and seems to lead a charmed life right on the edge of red-card territory.”
Collin’s immunity to red cards continued in the final. After committing a series of physical fouls -- and receiving a yellow card -- Collin pulled off a classic, cast-iron yellow-card trip on Real’s Robbie Findley in the 69th minute for which should have meant his ejection. Referee Hilario Grajeda called the foul, but no second yellow card appeared. Instead, Grajeda opted for a nice little chat with Collin. Quite unjustifiably pardoned, Collin scored the tying goal eight minutes later. It got better -- Collin was voted the game’s MVP.
So the legend of Collin the Untouchable continued. But it took a nasty knock earlier this month when referee Edvin Jurisevic had a rush of blood to his head and had the temerity to eject Collin for a foul on the Columbus Crew’s Adam Bedell.
Jurisevic, of all people, might have known better. Within three days, the so-called Independent Review Panel had reversed the call. No foul by Collin, hence the red card was canceled. So no suspension for Collin.
Yes, Jurisevic should have known better. It was Jurisevic who red-carded Collin in his debut game for KC back in 2011. The red card was quickly reversed by the MLS Disciplinary Committee. Mistaken identity, the Committee decided.
Bringing the Collin Escape Saga bang up to date, we need to take a look at Saturday’s game that featured Toronto hosting KC. And we don’t have to wait long for the Toronto protests to erupt. Just until the 23rd minute, when Michael Bradley’s deft forward pass allowed Gilberto to peel away from Collin some 27 yards from the KC goal. Gilberto had open field in front of him. Collin, the last defender, brought him down immediately.
Definitely a foul, a tactical one that demands a yellow. Quite possibly Collin’s foul could also be deemed as Denial of an Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO). In which case, Collin should have been red-carded.
By now, you will not be amazed to learn that Collin escaped without any punishment at all. Referee Ted Unkel allowed play to continue. Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen was appalled: “Collin should have been sent off, I mean, an under-12 ref can pick that one.”
That a foul should have been called and that Collin should have been yellow-carded is beyond doubt (if there was no foul, then Gilberto, obviously, should have been cautioned for diving. He wasn’t.)
But the red card for DOGSO is not so clear cut. I think many referees would regard 27 yards as too far from goal to justify the call. Though I don’t think that’s what went through Unkel’s mind -- I think he just made a mess of the entire call. As for what was happening in Collin’s mind, you might think that he was canny enough to know that his foul had to be made quickly, before Gilberto got any closer to the goal.
Not a good call from Unkel, then. And Collin is let off the hook yet again.
Perversely -- and lamentably -- the guy who comes out of this most recent Collin escapade looking really bad is Toronto’s Michael Bradley, for the way-over-the-top remarks he made about MLS refereeing after the game. “The referee was absolutely awful,” said Bradley, “The people at MLS in New York, when they talk about wanting to improve the league, the first thing that needs to be improved is the refereeing -- bottom line. … It was bad for both teams and I’m sure they’re sitting in their locker room saying the same thing to themselves.”
I’ve been trying to recall post-game locker rooms of winning teams (I’ve been in hundreds, possibly thousands) where the players were complaining about the refereeing. No luck so far.
A more likely response is what we got from KC coach Peter Vermes: “I thought the referee did a good job tonight. I don’t think it was an easy game to ref. I really liked his management of the game ...”
Impossible to avoid the impression that Bradley’s frustration was mostly down to the fact that Toronto failed to score more than once from it’s 17 shots on goal (two hit the goal frame) and the embarrassing finale that saw KC -- playing with 10 men after Matt Besler had been ejected -- score the winning goal. Taking that frustration out on the referee, though, is pretty reprehensible.
Meanwhile the unstained, ejection-proof Collin marches implacably on.