Violent Goalkeepers: Why Are MLS Refs Afraid to Eject Them?

By Paul Gardner

Seattle can consider itself hard done by. In the opening playoff game it came up on the short end of some decidedly poor decisions from referee Ricardo Salazar.

One, in particular, was of the game-deciding type. How on earth could Salazar allow Houston goalie Pat Onstad to stay on the field after he had solidly chest-bumped Fredy Montero to the ground. Can there be any doubt that Onstad used excessive force, which is the criterion for a red card?

We're back in the world of the invulnerable, untouchable, unpunishable goalkeepers again. In the past couple of weeks we've had the Revs' goalkeeper Matt Reis bringing down Chicago's Chris Rolfe for an obvious penalty kick and a red card to Reis -- an incident that ended with Rolfe getting a yellow for diving. Referee: Jorge Gonzalez.

Then we got the Red Bulls' goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, at full speed, launching himself off the ground with both feet into Toronto's Chad Barrett -- resulting in Barrett having to leave the game. No call at all on this one. Referee: Alex Prus.

And now we have the Onstad incident. Referee: Ricardo Salazar.

Whatever is the matter with the referees and the referee overseers here? It cannot be accidental that these three fouls were treated so lightly. I am quite sure that if a field player had committed any of these assaults he would have been ejected without further ado.

So, if it is not accidental -- and I repeat, how can it be, when the fouls are so flagrant? -- then it must be the result of one of two things: either a policy among USSF referees to go light on goalkeepers; or an unstated attitude among USSF referees that this is the way to do things, and they can only get an attitude like that from their bosses.

Either way, the USSF is initially to blame for not making it clear that this sort of refereeing is simply not acceptable. And MLS shares the blame for not kicking up a stink about these rotten calls.

In the three assaults mentioned above, all three goalkeepers should have been ejected. But the only card was a feeble yellow shown to Onstad. It would be interesting to know what that was for. If it was for the initial contact with Montero, then it has to be a red, for excessive force was clearly involved. If not that, then for what? And why was Onstad leaning low over Montero on the ground? And why was Onstad suddenly holding his head? What message was he trying to convey?

This is all absolutely extraordinary behavior from a vastly experienced player. Certainly it was out of character, but that should not be allowed to cover up the fact that Onstad should have been red-carded.

But all he got was a caution. I don't know for what. But does it matter? I called it "a feeble yellow" and that's exactly what it was. A yellow card to a goalkeeper is meaningless. When was the last time you saw a goalkeeper get two yellow cards in a game? I'm not sure that I've ever seen it.

Salazar got no better. In the 23rd minute, Brian Ching plowed recklessly into Leonardo Gonzalez. An obvious yellow card. But Salazar merely gave Ching a talking to. Telling him what for heaven's sake?

Three minutes later Salazar came up with yet another be-nice-to-the-Dynamo call. Ricardo Clark managed to kick Nate Jacqua on the eyebrow. Jacqua is 6-foot-4 tall, incidentally, and he was not stooping. Clark got to him with a prodigiously raised foot. He drew blood. About as clear an example of dangerous play -- and therefore an automatic yellow card -- as you could imagine. Yet Clark went unpunished.

But the real problem here is this leniency toward goalkeepers. Every goalkeeper in MLS must now be well aware that he can get away with almost anything when it comes to physical assault on an opponent. He may even be able to get his victim punished. Reis managed that -- and so did Onstad. Montero got a yellow -- for what? Falling too easily? Hey, maybe it's difficult to stay on your feet when you're 5-9 and 162 pounds, and a 6-4, 215-pound goalkeeper slams into you.

At halftime in the Seattle game, Rob Stone told us he had spoken with the estimable Joe Machnik, the MLS referee chief, about the non-call on Onstad. From what Stone said, Machnik -- uncharacteristically -- was pussyfooting around the issue, even mentioning intent, which is irrelevant.

With nothing but key games coming up in MLS from now on, one abysmal call -- this one at the expense of Seattle -- is more than enough. A clear statement from the USSF and MLS telling us that there will be no more of this bending of the rules in favor of goalkeepers is needed.


4 comments about "Violent Goalkeepers: Why Are MLS Refs Afraid to Eject Them?".
  1. Ian Plenderleith, October 30, 2009 at 8:16 a.m.

    I'm in full agreement with you this week (I'm sure you're delighted to know). My first reaction was, "Any outfield player would see a straight red for that." I'm still not sure what Montero was booked for, and the announcers, not untypically, failed to shed any light at all on the situation while the replays were running, talking over each other and making no sense. I don't think either of them seemed well enough versed on the rules to even venture that the correct decision, the straight red, should have been the only option.

    By the way, I recall a game with two yellows for a keeper - the Colombian stopper sent off for timewasting against the US in the third game of the ill-advised trip to the 2007 Copa America.

  2. beautiful game, October 30, 2009 at 1:20 p.m.

    Paul asks some good questions about ref decisions which are inconsistent throughout the MLS. What about those refs that continuously refuse to give the 10-yards incidental to the free-kicks. And what about a back pass to the keeper that gets picked up insidr the penalty mark and the 6-yard box, and the ref permits the wall to line up 2 to 3 yards from the goal line when in fact the rule stipulates the wall be placed ON THE GOAL LINE. Since becoming chief of Referees, Joe Machnik, has done a terrible job of holding the refs accountable to their enforcement of the Laws of Soccer. Machnik has been derelict in his duties by not sanctioning blatant officiating. No wonder that the standard of officiating is so blatantly inconsistent when it comes to letting play go one, carding and proper wall setups. Players should get the benefit of a doubt when the ball is played and not the man. Machnik must go, he has not delivered.

  3. Michael Lazzarini, October 30, 2009 at 9:50 p.m.

    You really need to re-watch both incidents in the Seattle-Houston game. Especially the Jacqua-Clark incident. Jacqua put himself in harms way.
    Onstad did handle himself badly and should have got the yellow. Montero provoked him with an attempted head butt ... at least that's how I saw both incidences.
    I agree with the referee's decisions.
    The announcers were of no help. Bring back Wynolda.

  4. , October 31, 2009 at 12:06 p.m.

    Jaqua may "put himself in harm's way" by running into Clark's 6-fott high foot (funny how self-destructive that Jaqua guy is--every Houston game seems to result in head bandaging) but explain to me (1) HOW Montero "provoked" Onstad, (2) why "provocation" would matter, and (3) why it results in a yellow (not a red) card? I watched it live and I've watched it from several angles on the DVR. Crap officiating, which we've come to expect from a number of officials, but not Salazar--until this game

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