Shades of the Cosmos - Red Bulls Want to Run MLS!

By Paul Gardner

The ghost of the Cosmos -- the celebrity team that also happened to play pretty damn good soccer -- still hovers intriguingly over the New York soccer scene.

On the one hand, we have a bunch of Brits posing as New Yorkers as they try to revive the Cosmos by organizing an exhibition game in England (of course it would be in England).

And on the other hand, we have the Red Bulls reminding us of a less acceptable face of the Cosmos image -- that of arrogance, of a belief that it was entitled to tell the league (the NASL) how to run things and, in particular, how its referees should behave.

One steamy summer afternoon in the old Giants Stadium -- I think it was 1980 -- the press was summoned to the Multimedia Room before a game. Up front there was a large screen, and we were treated to a rerun of all the controversial referee calls from the previous game. Standing there, with his pointer, playing the expert, was none other than the Cosmos head honcho Steve Ross.

A man who knew next to nothing about soccer, but who was here explaining to us why this call was bad, why that one was terrible, and why the referee should have been shot for another one. A ridiculous farrago. All of the refereeing crimes had, of course, gone against the Cosmos.

I was reminded of this episode of 30 years ago by this week’s “Statement” released by the Red Bulls. A complaint about the refereeing of the weekend’s 3-3 tie between the Red Bulls and Portland.

The Statement (I guess I have to give it a capital “S,” we really are, apparently, meant to treat this as something extra-special serious, a Papal Bull from the Red Bulls) comes from Erik Soler, the Red Bulls’ General Manager and Sporting Director.

It begins “We have carefully reviewed the film of our match against Portland last night ...” -- and that is enough for me. Oh, come off it, Erik!

That word “carefully,” for a start. A word that we are obviously meant to read as “objectively,” when in fact it means precisely the opposite. It means that “we” have been through the film with a fine-tooth comb looking for examples of calls against the Red Bulls -- calls that “we” don’t agree with.

I think it’s a fair observation that, in any soccer game, if you look hard enough for such calls, you’ll be able to find them, or at least con yourself into believing you’ve found them.

Soler is greatly incensed at Thierry Henry’s red card, which he says was “inexplicable” because there was “no violent conduct on his part whatsoever.” Rather unfortunately for Soler, we have an AP story in which the Portland player Adam Moffat is quoted as saying of Henry: “He was pretty wound up. He cuffed me pretty hard in the back of the head.”

Soler is also complaining about the foul count -- 25 fouls called on New York, only 5 on Portland (this is an objective stat, not something conjured up by Soler’s “careful” review of the film). The figures are unusual, that’s true. Soler goes further and calls them virtually unheard of -- “there is no way that one team can draw 20 more fouls than the other team, especially in a match where one team drew just five fouls. I have never seen this occur in my 30 years in the game.”

I have been around the game rather longer than Soler’s 30 years, and I’d be hard put to say whether I’ve seen this situation or not. We never used to keep stats anyway, so who knows from the early days? I agree with Soler that the foul count is highly unusual -- but it is certainly not impossible.

I must also record that I do not subscribe to Soler’s conceit that nothing can happen in soccer unless he has already come across it during his 30 years in the game.

The essence of Soler’s gripe about the foul ratio can only be that the referee was biased in his calls against the Red Bulls. So I did my own viewing of the game. Not all of it. Thanks to my own incompetence at taping, and the vagaries of the process anyway, I was able to “carefully review” only from the 20th through to the 95th minute -- that is, 75 minutes of the game, a sizable slice.

In that period I counted 3 fouls called against Portland, and 17 against the Bulls. According to Soler, that cannot be. Yet I could not really fault the referee on any of these calls. Nor could I accuse him of not making calls against Portland.

So far, I have been talking of an anonymous “referee.” The guy in question is Ricardo Salazar, an experienced ref whom I regard as one of the better MLS officials.

Soler disagrees and pans him as follows: “I can safely say that the level of refereeing was absolutely below the standards of what is required for a MLS match and completely unacceptable ... if we want to continue increasing the level of play, we cannot let these types of refereeing performances occur.”

Harsh words, and ones to which Soler really ought to have given more consideration before issuing his heavy-handed Statement. That Statement was issued far too quickly. A GM of Soler’s experience should know better than to sound off so quickly after a disappointing result.

But my biggest problem with Soler’s Statement is not the deception involved in that “carefully reviewed” trick, nor is it his, in my opinion, totally unjustified criticism of Salazar. What I find most objectionable is the attitude revealed in the final sentence of the Statement: “We look forward to speaking with the League to appeal Thierry’s automatic red card suspension and expect that it will be rescinded so that he is available for our match Thursday in Seattle.”

Now, that is the Cosmos reborn, for sure, the Cosmos at their most unacceptable and their most arrogant. That attitude was revealed at its crudest (once again we’re down in the bowels of Giants Stadium, after a Cosmos loss) and there is Jay Emmett, one of the Cosmos bigwigs, storming up and down the corridor, repeatedly yelling at the top of his voice “I want the Commissioner in my office at 9 o’clock on Monday!” The Cosmos, as the richest team in NASL, as the glamour team, could never quite believe that they couldn’t get their way whenever they wanted to.

I detect that sort of bullying arrogance in Soler’s statement, in his attempt to condition MLS with that “we expect that it [the Henry red card] will be rescinded and that he is available for our match Thursday in Seattle.”

I trust that MLS will disappoint Soler’s expectation.

17 comments about "Shades of the Cosmos - Red Bulls Want to Run MLS!".
  1. Ted Westervelt, June 22, 2011 at 4:13 p.m.

    Like Wal-Mart managers getting sassy with one another over sales figures, MLS coaches and managers have obviously been encouraged to trash talk. Spencer and Soler are both in this Epcot soccer league together. They should really stop with the lip. It's like Burger King managers arguing over whose sauce is more special.

  2. John Soares, June 22, 2011 at 4:51 p.m.

    Good article... Nice response Ric! I would disagree a little with you, in that I believe you can enjoy and "appreciate" the game as a fan. Without ever having coached or refereed. Having done both I sometimes cringe, but mostly laugh at some comments made around me, by fans, when attending a game. You should however (as you said) be very familiar with the rules before you criticise a ref. Especially when in a position such as Soler. Makes "him" look foolish, not the Referee in question

  3. Steven Erickson, June 22, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.

    It's time for the ref to RED card Soler, that alone would be very entertaining watching him spit and sputtering in his club suite.

  4. David Huff, June 22, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.

    Soler is just engaging in a blatant example of "homerism" in his thinly-velied attempt to regain the services of the "Ireland's Favorite Villain" in time for the Seattle game, it is laughable really.

  5. beautiful game, June 22, 2011 at 5:12 p.m.

    Watched the whole game and the disparity in the number of fouls was nothing unusual since the Timber players were much faster and efficient in the attacking zone...Salazar does have a tendency to limit yellow cards when in fact they are warranted, i.e., fouls from the real or a 'professional foul' when the target is the player and not the ball...RB should review two players, Miller and Ballouchy who cause most of the problems in their defense...simple giveaways and poor positioning will lead to fouling.

  6. Carl Walther, June 22, 2011 at 5:58 p.m.

    It always amazes me that so many people (e.g. Soler) who think that they are much smarter and more important than they really are. Also they think they are correct all of the time, no matter how many people think differently.

  7. Mark Edge, June 22, 2011 at 6:28 p.m.

    Quite right. Referees should be left alone, it's tough enough for them without a public open critisism. Of course they makemistakes but someone should stand over Soler in his office and publicly point out all the things he may do wrong in the course of a day's work.
    However, this sentence puzzles me:
    On the one hand, we have a bunch of Brits posing as New Yorkers as they try to revive the Cosmos by organizing an exhibition game in England (of course it would be in England).
    Where does this come from? The Cosmos are operated by Umbro (an American Co. owned by Nike).Just because they wish to raise their profile by playing Man U. for Scholes testimonial, something I dare say to do with Cantona, who is still French I believe. Oh wait a minute, it's impossible for Gardner to write an article without some form of swipe at his old country.Shame, he made some good points this time.

  8. Ray Shines, June 22, 2011 at 11:02 p.m.

    Wait....the alleged new Cosmos aren't "operated" by Umbro, are they? Umbro has a kit deal with them, but doesn't "operate" them, do they?

  9. Pete Pidgeon, June 23, 2011 at 5:37 a.m.

    While I must agree with your reaction to the club statement, the card is/was unnecessary. No need whatsoever to inject himself into the situation as the players had settled down by themselves.

  10. Joe Shoulders, June 23, 2011 at 9:17 a.m.

    Soler's attitude is typical of so many spoiled brats coaching and running soccer. PG is again right on here. These adults need to simply Grow up. I see high-level club Academy coaches all the time and all they do EVERY game is whine and whine about the ref. They set such a poor example.

    Mr. Edge,
    PG is right that Brits own and run the Cosmos. It's nice to see the name and logo back. Umbro (aka Nike now) does not run the Cosmos, but they have a huge uniform deal with these Brits. A deal, by the way, that gets messy when the Cosmos look into their possible MLS future. If the Cosmos join MLS, they will have to wear adidas like all the MLS teams. It's something they will have to work out.

  11. Kent James, June 23, 2011 at 9:56 a.m.

    And how does Soler think a referee should deal with a game in which one team is committing the fouls, and the other is not, make up some fouls to call against the team playing by the rules to even out the foul count? Referee's jobs are difficult enough without some clueless administrator whining about how the referee's incompetence cost them the game. As PG points out, the arrogance of the Red Bulls to "expect" the league to rescind the card is offensive. Although I like Henry, if I ran the league I'd be tempted to extend the suspension just to punish the Red Bulls for being so far out of line.

  12. Jim Blake, June 23, 2011 at 10:52 a.m.

    I am a RB fan. And I was very disappointed in the red card for Henry. Not in the reffing, he made the right call, but in Henry's actions. I love him as a player but he has a tendency to play on the dirty side. He should be called for a lot more fouls. He is still an asset to the team, but not when he gets himself kicked out of a game. Soler is just nuts and I hope he gets fined handsomely.

  13. Amos Annan, June 23, 2011 at 3:36 p.m.

    Why can't they complain about the refereeing?

    They should be able to say what they think, like anyone in America.

    Referees are too sensitive. If they don't believe in their own calls, then get out.

  14. Ken Jamieson, June 23, 2011 at 8:13 p.m.

    Amos, actually most professional leagues have a policy against public criticism of match officials, and MLS should be no different. Soler should be facing a fine from MLS for his outburst.
    As for Pete Pidgeon's comment that the red card to Henry was unnecessary "as the players had settled down by themselves" Law 12 is very clear "A player is sent off and shown the red card if he ... is guilty of violent conduct." As Thierry Henry hit another player he is guilty of violent conduct and clearly deserved his red card.

  15. Joe Shoulders, June 23, 2011 at 10:34 p.m.

    I'm going to assume Amos is around 10 years old ... At least I hope so ... Referees, like everyone are certainly not perfect .... Their mistakes, just like player's mistakes, are part of the game.

    Come to think of it, Mr. Soler's comments make him sound like a 10 year old as well.

  16. Paolo Jacobs, June 24, 2011 at 5:13 a.m.

    Henry deserved a Yellow card, not a Red in my opinion..... a bit too harsh....

  17. Brian Something, June 24, 2011 at 5:16 p.m.

    It was an appalling, unjustifiable call against Henry (and I can't stand RBNY). But you can't blame Salazar. He was clearly given the advice by his assistant and I can't blame a ref for trusting the judgment of his colleague on an incident he (Salazar) didn't see.

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