It's time the Commish explained this one ...

By Paul Gardner

MLS Commissioner Don Garber and his right hand man Nelson Rodriguez, plus Peter Walton, the chief of the newly minted U.S. referee body, PRO, might be expected to issue an explanatory statement this week. They certainly should do so. But, of course, they won’t. They will keep their collective mouth shut, and carry on as though nothing untoward had happened. But plenty untoward did happen, this weekend. In England.

Garber and Rodriguez are the men responsible for importing Walton, the English ex-referee who, it seems, is going to bring about tremendous improvements in the standard of American refereeing. He is able to do that, you see, because of his nine years of experience refereeing in the English Premier League.

So there is an explanation needed: if English refereeing is so good, how come there were at least four decidedly dodgy decisions in the EPL this weekend? Poor decisions by top officials that decisively affected the results of important games.

There is, as it happens, a perfectly straightforward statement that Garber & Co could make, one that would be acceptable to everyone, even to me (well, nearly). They could state, simply, that EPL refereeing is like any other refereeing anywhere else in the world -- it has its good days and its bad days, and this weekend it had a couple of bad days.

But you can be sure that such a statement will not be made. Why not? Because it would seriously undermine the decision they have made that English refereeing is so much better than American. Hence the decision to fill a crucial position not with an American, but with Englishman, Peter Walton -- who has now brought in an English assistant.

Their experience is entirely of English refereeing. So that is what we shall be getting from them. The weekend’s tidings from England confirm that this is not necessarily good news.

Here’s a quick run-through of this weekend’s EPL refereeing misfeasances:

* Arsenal 1 Queens Park Rangers 0: Arsenal’s goalscorer Mikel Arteta was clearly offside.

* Everton 2 Liverpool 2: A “winning goal” scored by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez disallowed, apparently for offside flagged by the assistant referee. There was no offside. If the flag was not for offside, no one has yet worked out what it was for.

* Chelsea 2 Manchester United 3. ManU’s winning goal was scored by Chicharito, who was clearly offside. He was racing back from an offside position (which is usually enough for an offside call) but didn’t make it anyway.

So we have two games won on goals that should not have been allowed, and one game not won because of a goal that was wrongly disallowed.

There was more. Inevitably, given the current climate in English soccer, it involved diving. After going down 0-2 to ManU, Chelsea got the score back to 2-2 early in the second half. Ten minutes later, Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic was red-carded -- correctly -- for tripping Ashley Young as he broke away. Five minutes after that Fernando Torres got past ManU’s Jonny Evans, was tripped, went down -- and got yellow-carded for diving. His second yellow, so he was ejected. Chelsea was down to nine men.

Referee Mark Clattenberg’s call on Torres was ludicrous. Torres was clearly tripped by Evans, whose tackle was way late and never got anywhere near the ball. Evans later admitted that “there was contact, but not enough to bring him down.” ManU coach Alex Ferguson admitted that Evans “might have caught him,” so you can be quite sure there was contact. And when Ferguson also admitted that Chicharito “might have been offside” on the winning goal, nothing more need be said.

Clattenberg’s far from glowing performance was further complicated when, after the game, Chelsea announced that it had made an official complaint about him using “inappropriate language” to two Chelsea players. But it was Clattenberg’s actions during the game that were heavily criticized. Nobody went further in that criticism than Martin Samuel, the Daily Mail’s No. 1 sports writer, with: “Sadly, Manchester United won here courtesy of one of the worst performances by a referee in Premier League history. In fact, make that the worst.”

There you have it. It is not my intention to make out that this calamitous weekend proves that English referees are poor. It does no such thing. It merely demonstrates what I said earlier -- that EPL refereeing, like any other refereeing anywhere else in the world, can have its good days and its bad days.

In one respect, though, the English have managed to make matters much worse for themselves recently. Their obsession with diving has led to an increasing number of bad and stupid calls -- Clattenburg’s absurd carding of Torres being the latest, and most glaring example.

In the light of this weekend’s happenings, I invite anyone from MLS, from Commissioner Garber downward, to use this column to explain just what it is that makes English-style refereeing so attractive to them. Where, gentlemen, is the evidence that English refereeing is so much better than American refereeing?

11 comments about "It's time the Commish explained this one ...".
  1. Thomas Brannan, October 29, 2012 at 3:52 a.m.

    Refereeing a top level soccer/football match or any match at any level has to be the most difficult officiating job in sport. The Liverpool goal that was disallowed could have been made right with replay but the powers to be don't want justice. That replay was on TV and could have been provided to the officials before they could have been back for the kick off. (i.e. a natural stoppage) A fifth official and a progressive administration could provide justice. But the powers to be don't want Justice they want controversy. In regard to Mr. Gardner's column here there probably is an American somewhere that can do a better job than the man who will be brought in. However, if someone was to be brought in I would try to bring in the Argentinian that had the World Cup qualifier leading up to the Italy World Cup who had the USA v. Trinidad and Tobago game in Trinidad when Paul Caliguri scored in a 1-0 game. That was a good referee, he enforced the law, and if that type of refereeing could be brought to bare on the American game it would lend itself to the type of progress in the American game that is needed. I am sure Mr. Gardner remembers that referee.

  2. Charles O'Cain, October 29, 2012 at 8:20 a.m.

    Torres dived after the probable slightest of touches because he no longer has confidence that he can score by staying upright (contrast his fragility to the play of Carlos Tevez who would never have gone down under similar circumstances). Suarez was onside, but would have never received the ball had it not been for the blatant foul by Coates climbing all over the defender to win the header. Hernandez was probably offside for the goal, but this was the linesman's call, not Clattenberg's, and only with slo-mo/stop action replay could this be determined. Valencia's card should have gone to Mikel, leaving Chelsea with 8. But I can't wait to hear what Clattenberg may have said "inappropriately", given the abuse refs are regularly absorbing from players and managers, not to mention the stands. Refs are humans, and any viewing of any match will easily demonstrate that they make far fewer mistakes in their task (managing the match through application of the laws) than do the players in theirs (playing the game).

  3. Joseph Pratt, October 29, 2012 at 9:35 a.m.

    Okay, fine, Paul, you make your point about the quality of refereeing in the EPL not necessarily being any better than in the US (although this is patently hard to measure or prove). But to expect a statement out of Garber relating to the refereeing in a different league is utterly ridiculous. An effort to improve refereeing should be applauded.

  4. Jogo Bonito, October 29, 2012 at 10:25 a.m.

    The MLS had a problem with refs not punishing the thugs hard enough. So GarberNelson goes out and hires an EPL ref?

    That's like like hiring the old FA Coaching Director, Charles Hughes to help your team possess the ball better.

  5. Gus Keri, October 29, 2012 at 11:17 a.m.

    I noticed in MLS that the commitee which gives punishment after reviewing videos is working well. It's helping cleaning the game and making the referees' job much easier. It should be applied in EPL **** In regard to the EPL referees' performances, I can't help but to point out the facts that the majority of the controvercial calls in recent years went in favor of Man Utd. Sir Alex Ferguson's psychology is manipulating the refs, the FA, the fans and the media. This is not a fair game.

  6. Millwall America, October 29, 2012 at 1:44 p.m.

    Just for the record, since PG seems to sometimes have problems with this: under the laws of the game, "contact" does not equal a foul. The flip side of this is that under the laws of the game, a player can be guilty of simulation even if that player experienced "contact" during the course of play. I would love to see a column where PG acknowledges this.

  7. Ramon Creager, October 29, 2012 at 1:56 p.m.

    "If the flag was not for offside, no one has yet worked out what it was for." As I saw it the flag was indeed for offside. He brought it straight up to indicate the offside, did not indicate a foul (done by shaking the flag quickly back and forth for a moment). So any claims that it was for a foul, and that it was not the AR's call that nullified the goal, need to take this into account. The diving decision is even worse. If there is contact, and the referee judges it not sufficient to warrant a foul, fine. Let play go on. But don't go yellow carding someone who was actually tripped. Then you start getting into the dodgy ground of a judgement call on whether a manly-man would have gone down or not. Any one who has played knows full well that it often doesn't take much to bring someone down, particularly if the contact is with the legs during a full run. (A card was given--to the defender--for a similar play in the recent Real Madrid vs. Dortmund UCL match.) Simulation cards should only be given for those cases where the referee CLEARLY sees (not guesses or makes manly-man judgements) that there was no contact, but the contact was simulated. On MLS, I agree with Paul. I don't see what need MLS has that can only be solved by importing "help" from abroad, especially England. We have good referees who can do the job, and as Gus Keri points out above, we've already instituted things not done in the EPL that have helped referees do a better job.

  8. Ramon Creager, October 29, 2012 at 2:23 p.m.

    Joseph Pratt, agree that attempts to improve are good things. But why an EPL ref? There is entirely too much EPL worship in certain circles, and I think that the EPL worshipers have undue influence. There are sizable segments of the soccer population in this country (players, fans, etc.) who don't have any connection or special attachment to the EPL or to its style of play, and may not perceive this as an improvement (to say nothing of our own referees who were passed over for the job). If the need for foreign expertise is real, why not hire a Mexican referee? They are the #1 power in CONCACAF, after all. Or a Brazilian, or an Argentinian? (both obvious world powers). My own inclination would be to steer clear of the EPL and its refs. The EPL is still struggling with what kind of play they want. Clearly the big teams want skilled ball handlers; just look at who they have brought in as players: Suarez, Oscar, Silva, Mata, Cazorla, etc. etc.; but the referees still tend to reward the direct, physical play of days gone. There have been entirely too many horror tackles that break legs, and the poor performances by its referees on the international stage has brought unneeded notoriety (Webb's 2010 WC final, Poll's 2006 WC 3-yellow-card mishap, etc.). Let them sort out their own problems. They don't need to come here and sort out ours.

  9. R2 Dad, October 29, 2012 at 11:52 p.m.

    Mexico may be the top Concacaf team but their league plays the same lame kick and run as MLS. So, no referees from central america unless they're retired FIFA refs. Benito Archundia comes to mind as a good example.

  10. Millwall America, October 30, 2012 at 11:56 a.m.

    Seems obvious to me that MLS wants EPL refs because EPL is the most popular league in the world by a large margin (in terms of both global revenue and global fanbase). MLS would like to increase their own revenue and fanbase, so it only makes sense to emulate EPL football as opposed to e.g. Brazilian football. While Brazil may produce some great players, it's not like anyone except Brazilians are lining up to watch Palmeiras vs Corinthians. On the other hand, plenty of people around the world want to see the kind of soccer that the EPL provides, and EPL's refs are one of the things that help create that globally popular style.

  11. Charles O'Cain, October 30, 2012 at 12:04 p.m.

    And I would like to see both Mr Gardner and Mr Creager acknowledge Millwall America's point. It really doesn't have to do with manly-man vs girlie-man, but rather with honesty vs cheating. It is not dishonest to touch an opponent, but it is dishonest to pretend that the effect of that touch is something other that what it was. I have no problem with players "diving" (but not "simulating") to AVOID contact, but I do to the face-clutching and transient writhing responses to feather touches (or no touch at all) which seem to feature so prominently in some leagues (and their refugees).

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