MIKE WOITALLA... Ref-bashing's not the answer

My favorite postgame remark toward a referee has long been the one uttered by Ron Atkinson when he coached West Brom in a losing UEFA Cup effort.

"It has always been my policy not to comment on referees, and I'm certainly not going to make an exception for this idiot," he said.

Recent U.S. coaches have tended to be diplomatic with their comments on game officials. Bob Gansler used to brush off questions, saying referees were like the weather - you can't change them by complaining.

Bruce Arena, after his team lost to Costa Rica on a controversial penalty kick, approached referee Peter Prendergast at midfield. His anger was obvious from afar. And he revealed later that "I told him he cheated us."

Arena also said that the refereeing in the first two U.S. qualifiers was "terrible."

Arena's honesty has always, in my opinion, been admirable. And from my Saprissa Stadium seat, seeing Prendergast point to the penalty spot came as a complete surprise. (I was equally surprised when he didn't point to the spot after Frankie Hejduk's sloppy slide on Austin Berry moments earlier.)

Telling the press one's opinion about a referee is one thing. But running onto the field to tongue-lash him amid a throng of your players can't be condoned.

Arena says that, considering the "highway robbery" that occurred, expecting his players to peacefully walk off the field would be unreasonable. Claudio Reyna, he says, was 15 yards away when he threw his captain's band at Prendergast.

Still, blaming a setback on the refs threatens to obscure the other reasons for a loss by one goal.

The Americans need to win three straight home games to get 10 points - which should wrap up passage to the final round.

The sooner they accept responsibility for their own shortcomings, the better.


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