Davies 'flop' highlights refereeing problems

By Ridge Mahoney

Two weeks ago, D.C. United players, officials and fans were outraged by the work of referee Baldomero Toledo, who they believe flubbed four critical calls – three of which went against United – in a 2-1 loss at New England.

On Saturday, forward Charlie Davies fell to the ground upon being hand-checked by Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, and drew a penalty-kick ruling from referee Abiodun Okulaja that has drawn blistering criticism. Davies has been ripped for taking a dive, Okulaja is getting grief for buying it. David Beckham called the call “disgusting,” Landon Donovan – who didn’t travel for the game – offered to buy Davies a scuba mask.

The adage that refereeing decisions will balance out over the course of a season, and they are part of the game, shrouds a more important issue: How many of these calls are narrow, 50-50 decisions that could go either way, and how many are simply badly botched rulings. Unfortunately, cases of the latter seem to be stacking up rather rapidly, a clear indication that officiating of MLS matches isn’t keeping up with an increased burden of games and responsibilities.

Expansion means more teams and more games, and thus, more officials. Its persona as a fast, physical league loads extra burdens on MLS officials, who are also struggling to correctly oversee experienced players being lured from foreign teams and more polished products coming out of the college game. Any good official is going to occasionally miss a tough, bang-bang call; while offside calls seem to have improved, in other areas MLS officials are falling behind.

For at least a decade, many complaints from coaches and general managers have centered not just on the traditional precepts of accuracy, consistency and fairness, but finding men who can use good judgment and common sense. The Davies incident highlights a weakness among some MLS officials who tend to flub critical calls in the penalty area; they seem obsessed with either calling a foul of some sort or cautioning players for diving when there’s contact.

Most observers would say Davies took a dive and should have been cautioned, yet by a strict interpretation of the rule book, Gonzalez pushed an opponent, which is a foul. The mark of a good referee is finding truth in these gray areas, deciding what is a trip and what is incidental contact, or discerning what is a punishable push and what is permissible at the pro level.

San Jose fans howled last week when a Sounders defender clearly tripped Ryan Johnson in the penalty area, yet referee Edvin Jurisevic let play continue. This incident occurred in the same part of the field as the Davies’ play; on the attacking left side of the penalty area, which is the furthest away from the referee and his assistant. (This is one reason why goal-line officials are stationed on the side of the goal away from the referee’s assistant, to give a different viewing angle of goalmouth incidents as well as the goal line.)

MLS decided not to follow the lead of the Europa League, as well as the Mexican league, to add goal-line officials for the 2011 season. The logistics and duties of this system are still being developed, and in any case, the ultimate decision of whether to award a penalty is up to the referee. Perhaps Jurisevic believed he saw the Johnson incident clearly and decided no penalty was warranted; the replays indicate otherwise, but at least he didn’t caution Johnson for diving as some of his colleagues might have.

Other referees seem prone to over-officiating when letting play continue might be the best decision. In stoppage time of the New England-D.C. game, defender Dejan Jakovic received a red card for jostling Revs keeper Matt Reis as he collected a ball inside the penalty area. The contact seemed incidental, though Reis raised his knee as he grabbed the ball and upon contact tumbled to the ground as if struck by a truck. As Jakovic jogged back to his position, he jawed with D.C. players and took a swipe at one of them, a patently stupid move given the circumstances and Toledo’s poor performance to that point.

Toledo indeed issued a red card -- not for Jakovic’s errant swipe -- but for supposedly roughing up Reis. Jakovic could have just crashed into Reis, but he didn’t; Jakovic checked his challenge as Reis caught the ball and extended his arms to stop his momentum, which Toledo apparently viewed as a deliberate shove.

Jakovic wasn’t fined; the league rescinded the fine that normally accompanies a suspension but only in the case of mistaken identity can a suspension be lifted, so he sat out United’s April 2 match.

Three players were sent off in RSL’s 2-0 defeat of the Revs Saturday; rather than go over each of those incidents in detail, it can be said instead that in general, neither the players nor officials are satisfied with how games are being played, and officiated, so far in 2011.

11 comments about "Davies 'flop' highlights refereeing problems".
  1. Jay Moody, April 12, 2011 at 8:34 a.m.

    Blatant refereeing mistakes happen at every level in every part of the world. You don't have to look further than the recent Blackpool-Arsenal and Man Utd.-Chelsea games to see that. Two seemingly obvious penalties not awarded, one in each game. The MLS is not pretty by any stretch but I don't think in can be singled out for bad refereeing.

  2. Ken Jamieson, April 12, 2011 at 8:37 a.m.

    Why am I not surprised that Mr. Toledo was in charge of the Vancouver-New England game that saw 3 players ejected and numerous questionable calls made.
    Mr. Toledo must have been a quality offical to earn his FIFA badge, however I question whether he has maintained this standard in recent MLS games. I sensed an air about him that it was his game and he was going to get the players to play the way he wanted instead of officiating to the flow of the game.
    In what I have seen recently of his work, Mr. Toledo is trying too hard to put his stamp on the game. He would be wise to follow the old adage that a good official is one you don't notice during the game. The referee should not be a personality on the field to attract attention, but rather part of the mechanisms of the game, there to ensure the players can play to their best ability.

  3. Daniel Clifton, April 12, 2011 at 9:19 a.m.

    I've seen the replay of the Gonzalez - Davies incident. I am not convinced it was a dive. Even if it was why did Gonzalez push him? Some would argue that Davies should have fallen at that point.

  4. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, April 12, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.

    Let the officials make their mistakes, s long as they're honest mistakes. It gives us something to talk about. It provides an excuse when our team loses, and can be dismissed as meaningless when our team wins. ยง We should be more concerned about the possibility of DISHONEST mistakes. I hope the league has good procedures in place to deal with corrupt referees, though I understand their reluctance to discuss it publicly.

  5. Joe Kee, April 12, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.

    Beckham needs to shut his British pie-hole. The only "disgusting" moves in that game were his horrific tackle on Josh Wolff and the fact that he didn't get a straight red. The tackle was brutal and without regard for the other player's wellbeing. That kind of tackle breaks legs and is a text book example of a red card offense - THIS is what the article should have focused on - not an embellished foul (but a foul nonetheless). Beckham should reserve judgment for his own actions.

  6. Richard Beal, April 12, 2011 at 11:18 a.m.

    I would rather watch someone score a goal than watch him being pushed off the ball by a defender. As far as I'm concerned, it was a good call.

  7. Nicholas Adams, April 12, 2011 at 1:51 p.m.

    Having experienced officialdom in both the UK/Europe and here in the US I have to say that the standard is woefully low here in America.
    In MLS, Youth, High school and Town levels, refereeing standards are very, very poor. I had three games, just this weekend, decided by very poor refereeing decisions and when I question, (That's question in a civil way NOT yell), I am instantly disregarded or fobbed off with a vague response or just ignored!

    Some are intimidated by my English accent, worried that, yes, I do actually know more about the rules than they do; some enjoy the power of the role and some are just turning up for the money and seem to lack genuine enthusiasm.

    At the lower levels, it is simply too easy to get a patch and referee games. The referee exams need to be harder or more game related in order for referees to understand the games' situations, emotions and psychologies to referee fairly and effectively and benefit the game.

  8. Katherine James, April 12, 2011 at 2:56 p.m.

    I think there will we always controversial calls on whether something is a PK or not. I think in 4 games the Quakes have had 5 uncalled clear penalties, which seems a bit extreme.

    But what's bothering me more is the simple things that are going awry this year. Ramon Hernandez did not know how to do the spray paint for a wall. Instead of spraying the ball location and counting off 10 yds and spraying a line for the wall to form behind, intead he sprayed the line for the wall first and then walked back to the ball, which might or might not be 10 yds. This same crew fouled up with the fact that CRs let players return to the pitch after going out of injury, not ARs. These are simple straightforward, should-be-routine mechanics.

    The previous week, Jurisevic stopped a throw-in for a full minute because a player couldn't get their shoe untied and replaced and tied again. This is not a reason to delay a match for a full minute. There were no injuries or substitutions. He just stood there baffled while the coaches and players got angrier and angrier.

    With the retirement of Tamborino and the defection of Brain Hall, they seem entirely directionless and rudderless at the top and it's filtering down to a pretty shocking year.

  9. Kevin Mcclintock, April 12, 2011 at 3:02 p.m.

    Ridge, your article by definition points out that it was a foul in the box against Charlie Davies. While a lot of times the refs let the pushing and shoving and shirt pulling go, it is always technically a foul. It is understood that a shoulder charge while playing the ball is permitted, but any time the player extends his arm and pushes the attacker that is a foul by definition. That means that any "Hand Check" is actually a foul because in order to "Handcheck" you are actually pushing the attacker.

  10. Bill Richter, April 13, 2011 at 12:03 a.m.

    @Katherine James:

    The most ridiculous aspect of the shoe-tying incident was issuing the caution to the player tying his shoe, not to James Riley for delaying the restart after being instructed to put the ball into play. that's a rookie mistake of epic proportions...

    Landon Donovan has absolutely no credibility when it comes to criticizing others for diving. Pot, meet Kettle... LOL

  11. joe schmoe, October 15, 2011 at 1:16 a.m.

    Yup. He ruined another game tonight Oct 14, 2011. A hotly contested match Timbers vs Dynamo for the last playoff spot. 30 fouls and 1 yellow card until the very end where he gave another yellow. He called 20 fouls on Houston. 10 for portland. I counted more like 32 for Houston and 14 for Portland. #3 accumulated 5 fouls, Davis had 4. Only one yellow out of 9 fouls designed to ruin the game???? he allowed Houston to ruin the game. The first yellow was very lenient an elbow to the head no where near the ball. You gotta be blind or paid off to miss that. The first goal came off a bad call he made on a great tackle. The Yellow card to fouls/fouls called was way off. Very inconsistent. The Timbers most definitely have a complaint on this. Really frustrating to watch as a fan and referee.

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