Seattle plays the ref-bashing game

By Paul Gardner

Referee Tim Weyland was kept busy by the Sounders and the Galaxy on Sunday -- to the tune of eight yellow cards and one red. He also called 27 fouls -- which is high, but not outrageously so.

Now for the anomaly. Whenever a referee issues a lot of cards, it seems that he immediately gets criticized. What happened on the field is suddenly irrelevant. A shower of cards must mean poor refereeing. So the ref gets blamed for indiscipline when it would be as logical -- more logical, really -- to criticize the players involved.

And Weyland has duly come in for criticism. It was depressingly inevitable that Seattle coach Sigi Schmid and GM Adrian Hanauer would have their say. What surprised me was that MLS big shot Todd Durbin -- an executive vice president no less --should sound off, telling the Seattle Times that Weyland is "an experienced referee who didn't have his best day." Which lines up Durbin, and therefore MLS, alongside Schmid and Hanauer. Durbin should know better than to comment -- especially when it is the U.S. Soccer Federation that supplies and assesses the referees.

A pretty bad gaffe. A better target for Durbin would be the players and the coaches involved. Those are legitimate targets for MLS comments. Schmid for example, who was adorned with enough Sounders paraphernalia to make him look more like a fan than a coach, duly behaved like a fan. He berated Weyland on the field, and then announced, postgame, that he was "disappointed in the refereeing." He also said that he was "disappointed with the ejection." James Riley, one of Sigi's players, was thrown out in the 57th minute after he had slugged the Galaxy's Mike Magee. I trust it is Riley whom Schmid is disappointed with and not Weyland, who did exactly what he had to do. But I have my doubts.

The confusion and shoving and pushing that surrounded that incident involved many players. In the end, Magee and Sounders captain Freddie Ljungberg got yellows. The whole episode lasted over 3 minutes and reflected little credit on anyone. But you have to be standing on your head to blame it on Weyland.

Sigi was joined in that unlikely stance by Seattle GM Adrian Hanauer whose statements could well win him a "Season's Best" -- if MLS had a Most Fatuous Comments award. After lamenting that the Sounders had not won the game and that "the referee played a role in that," Hanauer had this to say:

"My bigger concern is that we are working hard here in Seattle ... to get fans into the building, and we owe a good experience to our fans. And that means referees that maintain control of the game, referees that keep the flow of the game going, referees that don't become the center of attention, referees that keep the players on the field, because quite frankly, the fans are here to see the players, not the referees."

First of all -- "working hard": No one is going to deny that Seattle has done one hell of a job, better than any club has ever done in MLS. Unfortunately that achievement doesn't enter into the matter -- unless Hanauer is claiming that hard work entitles the Sounders to Sounder-friendly referees?

Then -- "referees that maintain control of the game": the implication being that Weyland "lost control" of the game. Well, control was lost on the field. By the players. That is an area where the coaches might be expected to exert the main influence. Weyland used the only resource he has -- he issued cards. And that, apparently, was wrong of him.

Next -- "referees that keep the flow of the game going": This piffle can only mean that the referee should ignore fouls. And you can bet your life that Hanauer would have the referee ignore only Sounders fouls. If the referee's whistle is too often heard (and, as I said, 27 fouls is not an outrageous total) it sounds only as a response to what the players are doing.

Finally -- "referees that keep the players on the field": An even dumber notion that the previous one. Again, you can be quite sure that Hanauer means Sounders players. So Riley should remain on the field after striking an opponent?

Schmid's comments are the usual coaching blame-the-ref excuses to explain a team's poor performance. Hanauer merely makes an ass of himself outlining to MLS what sort of referee the Sounders require in future. While Todd Durbin's instant condemnation of Weyland -- giving the impression, whether he likes it or not, that Durbin is yielding to Seattle pressure -- is way out of order.

An afternoon of mediocre soccer produced by mediocre player performances and, yes, mediocre coaching got what it warranted: average refereeing. To single out Weyland as the lone culprit in this mess is not only ludicrous, it is downright shabby.


9 comments about "Seattle plays the ref-bashing game".
  1. Ernest Irelan, May 14, 2009 at 8:43 a.m.

    there is little doubt in the USA that soccer fans need to be more educated in the laws of the wide, USA referees are considered substandard, I believe because the sport is not the MAJOR sport an thus, we are more inexperienced in the rules an playing the game. For sure, we do NOT want incidents with "hooligans" like just recently took place in Columbia, an we do NOT want games out of control with sloppy playing by players an coaches bashing referees for calls that are not in their favor, nor do we want our players "taken out" by poor tackles an just plain excessive "hits" on them. The "beautiful game" is to be played with finess , skill, agility an grace, bodily contact at a minimum. I really detest the "professional" foul, a deliberate foul to keep the player from making a successful quck counter usually an allow the defense time to get back into position...if I were still refereing, this would be a yellow card instead of only a direct free kick. Any time a foul deliberately made, I believe it to be a cardable offense, the game would be faster an cleaner an less stoppage...otherwise, let's keep it clean.

  2. , May 14, 2009 at 9:05 a.m.

    Well said, and it's difficult to make a statement like this when the tide has turned to bashing a particular ref. This spring the refs seem to have taken a stronger stand and although not always popular, they should keep calling fouls and force players to clean up their game, and thus allow the more skilled athletes to play the more technical game.

  3. , May 14, 2009 at 9:20 a.m.

    I think the problem really comes down to poor coaching - in this case Weyland is the scapegoat. What coach at one point or another doesn't fall victim of that feeling that every call is being made against his team purposely.

  4. Dragos Axinte, May 14, 2009 at 10:45 a.m.

    Mr. Gardner,

    I read your column avidly and agree with 95% of your opinions. The
    article above fits in the remaining 5%. Adrian Hanauer is right in many respects, especially when stating that referees that lose control of the game negatively impact the final result, the spectating experience, and the performance of the players.

    The main issue at Qwest Field on Sunday was that Mr. Weyland kept blowing his whistle in the wrong direction, time and time again, to the point where players, coaches, and fans became frustrated and the game changed. His mistakes affected both teams, although he seemed to have a preference towards leaving Ljungberg on the ground without calls, which was aptly noted by the Galaxy defenders. In the case of the red card, Riley was tripped by Maggee after a call and reacted to that, leading to a multi-player melee. Both (or multiple) players should have been cautioned, but instead Riley was sent off and Maggee stayed until the Sounders complained sufficiently to get Magee a yellow. (Ljungberg, who is not the Sounders' captain but a leader on the field, also earned one for complaining.)

    There were other occasions where the yellow card against a Galaxy player came out only after massive amounts of complaining by the Sounders, and not right after the play; other times the complaining earned the Sounders their own cautions, leaving them with a dilemma on how to act after an unruly foul, but typically leading them to do the uncool thing of whining.

    And yes, there is more: a clear foul on Jaqua in the box was not called late in the first half, with the score tied at 1-1. I believe the reason is that Jacqua had handled the ball 3 seconds earlier to get the ball into the box... but the play rolled on without a whistle after both incidents.

    Yes, 30,000 spectators agreed with Hanauer's comment when they focused all their voices on the referees' group exiting the field under police escort, rathern than pay attention to the shirt-swapping and hand waving of both teams' players. And hallway chatter after the game confirmed that the fans were not concerned with the calls going one way or another, but just the wrong way, most of time. Lastly, it appears that the USSF official monitoring the game was unhappy with Mr. Weyland's performance as well, placing him under performance review.

    To his defense, Mr. Weyland may have been surprised by the atmosphere at Qwest Field and the responsibility towards 30,000 ardent fans. But if the USA is keen to make progress as a soccer nation in the world, it must train its referees just like it trains its players and coaches, so that they can withstand such work conditions.

  5. bgix , May 14, 2009 at 11:58 a.m.

    Mr Gardners comments in this article leave me wondering if he took the time to watch the game on Sunday. His article servers simply as a vehicle to exonerate Mr Weyland and his team with not even the barest concession that perhaps the game was poorly called.

    Sure Seattle is an "expansion" team, but that does not mean that we the fans are completely without the ability to judge the effectiveness of a referee. We know our soccer, and know the rules.

    God forbid that a referee should be held responsible for his bad calls, late calls, or lack of calls.

    Are Seattle fans "homers" who boo at calls that go against us? Sure, just as all fans. But as someone who has watched the game a couple times now, I am fairly confident that the game was unfairly called, the game got away from Mr Weyland, and his answer to the situation was to start throwing yellows and reds that were too little too late.

    And I have now read a number of descriptions of the melee, and those defending Riley's Red, that was not also applied to Magee, are starting to resort to hyperbola. First described as a shove, then a violent shove, then a slap, then a punch, and now finally Mr Gardener is calling it a slug. What this tells me is that many jumping to the ref's defense have *not* seen the fracas, and prefer to accept the Red sight unseen.

    The contact between was open handed, and mirrored what Magee had done to Riley moments before. Fairly, it could have been called a shove or a slap, but just because Magee flopped didn't make it a punch or slug. It followed a Galaxy stall that saw an LA player clutching the ball with his hands to keep Seattle from putting it back in play after a called LA foul.

    I am not arguing that Riley didn't deserve a foul or a card. He most certainly did. But Wayland increased Riley's Yellow to a Red based on one linesman recommendation, and then ignored his other lineman calling for a yellow for the player that had clutched the ball. He got out of the scrum with no penalty at all, while we got 2 yellows and a red.

    It is apparent that either Mr Gardener didn't see the game at all, or he is willing to believe anything and everything that a ref does to be beyond reproach. I would remind him, and all the other fans here that Mr Weyland has had more complaints from fans, players, and coaches for his horrendous officiating that any other ref in the league. And this was *before* the Seattle-LA game. Remember the Galaxy-Chivas game???

  6. Dave Carney, May 14, 2009 at 1:45 p.m.

    Mr. Gardner,

    While your article is well written and articulate, you are missing the bigger picture. I believe that Brian Gix has a much better perspective on the series of events in the Seattle v LA match and Mr. Weyland's other recent on field troubles. I couldn't agree with him more. It was a disgraceful performance of officiating by Mr. Weyland and his assistants.

  7. bgix , May 14, 2009 at 3:59 p.m.

    I would like to refer everyone to the following article:

    Look for "Video Clip 2", which clearly addresses:

    1. The Instigater.
    2. The 3rd man in.
    3. The Violent Conduct.

    This is a much fairer and impartial dissection of the Riley/Magee tangle than what Mr Gardner stated in his article, and is exactly what I was referring to.

  8. Stephen Papineau, May 15, 2009 at 1:54 p.m.

    Gardner, watch the cips over again.
    First Riley did NOT strike him in any way. He put his hand on the other guys should/neck area... The EXACT same thing that that guy did to Riley after already having PUSHED Riley. The only difference is that Riley didn't flop like a fish. Watch it. And then write your articles. Sorry but you are way off on this one. Weyland can't see everything. I was a ref for a long time and sympathize with difficult situations. But he did not properly consult his assistants, nor did he manage the game before this incident. He needs to protect players who are being deliberately targeted and repeatedly fouled. (like Ljungeberg) MLSnet said they doubt Ljungberg will be able to finish the season if he keeps getting hacked and hit so much. Galaxy showed no class in this one and they do not deserve to be thought of better than SFC simply because we came out with the harsher punishment. Riley was properly sent off, but there should have been at least 1 red going to galaxy on this one too. This was a disappointing game on all fronts. And Weyland was properly criticized. It was a very poor performance for a referee at that level.

  9. Don Sando, May 16, 2009 at 2:04 a.m.

    Riley was rightly sent off, definitely, but if thats a red, then Magee gets one too. Watch the game, you'll see it, Magee obviously did the samething, just Riley didnt hit the ground.

    Was your point of this article to just say stuff about Hanauer's comments then I may agree with you, but if you were actually trying to say the referee did a good job, you are definitely wrong.

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