[MLS REF WATCH]
For the MLS
referees in the quarterfinal, first legs, the bottom line read: One red card, certainly justified; the same for two disallowed goals; and no penalty kicks. Neither of those figures would be
reassuring if officials had ignored a savage off-the-ball incident meriting an ejection, or somehow missed a stone-cold penalty, or whistled for a phantom infraction and pointed to the penalty spot.
Fortunately, in most cases the officials rose to the occasion and performed at their own playoff caliber.
Concerns about the officiating began right away in the Revs-Fire match last
Thursday, when referee Alex Prus
adopted a rather laissez-faire attitude regarding a few tough tackles early in the match. Yet when Bakary Soumare
from behind in the 16th minute, Prus promptly and firmly cautioned him for a reckless foul.
In this hard-hitting game, tacking on a few additional
yellows to the five Prus handed out might have been somewhat heavy-handed. Prus permitted a few fierce challenges to go unpunished, and several times players held up multiple fingers, indicating their
belief an opponent had hacked enough times to be cautioned for persistent fouling.
In some ways, referees are like goalkeepers; they can perform flawlessly for 89 minutes, but if in that
other minute they err egregiously, nobody remembers anything else. Somehow the officials must manage the ebb and flow of the game, let the minor stuff pass, and still be ever vigilant, since a
decisive play or serious incident may arise at any moment.
On this benchmark, too, Prus and his assistants made the grade. A desperation tackle by John Thorrington
the final minutes did get a piece of the ball as Sainey Nyassi
prepared to shoot, and a wonderfully headed goal by Brian McBride
from a Justin Mapp
cross turned out to be a marginally offside play, and thus properly disallowed. Prus also got it right in the 65th minute when Thorrington tackled Mansally forcefully but legally in the penalty area.
One might quibble about two handballs on the dribble, both occurring when a ball bounced up and struck either the hand or the arm of the dribbler, and in only one case did Prus whistle
Referee Kevin Stott
handed out three cautions in the Red Bulls-Houston game, a rather low total for a frenzied match played at a high pace on artificial
turf. Stott should have cautioned Nate Jaqua
when he accidentally head-butted Andrew Boyens
as they dueled for a bouncing ball. Players from both teams jostled and
shoved as they surrounded the prone Boyens yet no cards were issued. Boyens needed a few minutes to recover and Jaqua, the target of furious Red Bull protests, sportingly helped the dazed defender to
his feet, but still the reckless foul should have been punished more severely. Juan Pablo Angel
used a forearm to clunk Richard Mulrooney
a few minutes
later as they jumped for a ball to demonstrate his fury at Jaqua escaping sanction, and Stott duly cautioned the Red Bull captain. Angel didn't hit Mulrooney viciously but did knock him down.
The referee had earlier cautioned Dane Richards
(reckless foul) and Brian Mullan
(unsporting behavior) after Richards had felled Mulrooney and Mullan jumped
into the ensuing scrum to exact some payback. After cautioning Angel, Stott put away his cards for the rest of match, and as in the case of Prus, let a few marginal incidents pass unpunished. Prus,
though, after cautioning Mansally in the 42nd minute, handed out three cards in 14 minutes as the goalless stalemate dragged on. When the tensions and frustrations escalated, the referee tightened his
Referee Ricardo Salazar
disallowed a Real Salt Lake goal in the 76th minute of a 0-0 game, and heard plenty of protest from the raucous Rio Tinto Stadium
crowd. Yura Movsisyan
, though, had clearly shoved Carey Talley
before putting the ball into the net, and Salazar whistled decisively as Talley fell, his waving arm
appealing for the foul call.
The only red card of the quarterfinal first-leg games occurred when Wizard Herculez Gomez
, who'd been knocked over trying to win a ball
near the touchline, lashed out with both feet as Crew defender Gino Padula
took possession. Gomez lunged for the ball with his left leg and as that leg tripped Padula, his right leg
whipped around and also made contact. Referee Jorge Gonzalez
adjudged Gomez guilty of serious foul play and sent him off.
Gonzalez also cautioned three players in a
typically bruising playoff game that produced 32 fouls. Had Gomez merely tripped Padula with a late tackle he'd have been cautioned. One could argue that Gonzalez could have been more lenient. The
case could also be made that Gomez committed a dangerous, two-footed foul with his team leading in a playoff game, 1-0, and unlike many of the hard, tough tackles witnessed by Prus and Stott, it
clearly fit the definition of serious foul play.
Playing a man short from the 75th minute, Kansas City surrendered an equalizer in the second minute of stoppage time when it fluffed
several attempted clearances and Steven Lenhart
stuck the ball into the net. We'll never know if the presence of Gomez in that goalmouth melee might have prevented the goal, but in
this case, the result can't be pinned on a bad refereeing decision.