Referee gaffe does Dynamo a big favor

By Paul Gardner

Way to go Alexi! For telling it like it is. “A botched call,” said Alexi Lalas in tones that brooked no ifs or buts or maybes. He was speaking on ESPN and referring to referee Ricardo Salazar’s decision right before halftime in the Houston-D.C. United playoff game.

DC’s Raphael Augusto, who was about to break clean through the Houston defense, went down under a comprehensively clumsy assault by Houston’s Andre Hainault. As poor a challenge as you’ll ever see. Without that foul -- and a foul it unarguably was -- Augusto would have been in a 1v1 situation with the Houston goalkeeper near the edge of the penalty area ... an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

The rules are clear about this: if a defender commits a foul and thereby denies an OGSO, he has to be red-carded. Salazar was well-positioned, his vision was not blocked by other players. Yet he waved play on. Incredible.

A botched call indeed. A horrible call, or non-call. One that, in all likelihood, has decided this two-game series in favor of Houston.

The problem for Salazar, I have to assume, was that obligatory red card. But that’s what should have happened. Hainault should have been ejected, the Dynamo should have been playing with 10 men in the second half. No, of course we don’t know how that would have affected things. The Dynamo is a remarkably resilient team and I cannot imagine them falling apart. Nevertheless, I feel quite comfortable saying that, reduced to 10 men, the Dynamo would have been unlikely to run out 3-1 winner. One thing we do know for certain is that Hainault would not have been around to score, as he did, the tying goal.

I praised Salazar just a couple of weeks ago for exemplary refereeing of a Seattle-Real Salt Lake game. I might be praising him again now, for he actually had a pretty good game -- were it not for his colossal error which overshadowed all else. D.C. United had every reason to feel bitterly aggrieved -- though exactly how an experienced pro like Pat Onstad feels he is helping matters by getting himself thrown out for protesting is inexplicable.

Strange things followed the incident. NBC commentator Arlo White told us, as the second half began, that he had just “had a chat with” Peter Walton, the new referee chief. According to White, Walton had explained things as follows: “If there was a foul, it is not DOGSO (denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity).” His reasoning being that another Houston defender [Luiz Camargo] was near enough to, in White’s words, “potentially repel the attacker.”

This makes no sense. Camargo was at least 7 yards away from the incident. If Augusto had not been pulled down he would have raced on into the penalty area -- a distance of, say, 8 yards -- with only the goalkeeper in front of him. An unarguable OGSO.

Augusto had a 7-yard start over Camargo. Are we supposed to imagine Camargo could turn on the burners so that, in the same time that it took the pretty speedy Augusto to cover 8 yards, Camargo manages to get in front of, or at least alongside, him by covering twice that distance?

Come on, guys, let’s be real!

I’m also baffled by Walton’s reference to “benefit of the doubt,” which he made in an interview with after the game. Persisting with his feeling that Camargo could have “influenced” the play, Walton says that “the benefit of the doubt would go to the defending team in a situation of a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.”

That’s sad to hear -- though I do not know where that particular ruling comes from. I’d be interested to find out, as it seems to me to run counter to what I had hoped was a general trend toward giving the benefit of the doubt to attacking players.

But it does seem to me that Walton has a beef that he should take up with his bosses (whoever they may be) at PRO, the Professional Referees Organization. In his postgame interview he explained that he was speaking without “the benefit of reviewing a replay.”

Well, good gracious, where on earth in the stadium is PRO seating its top man that he doesn’t have access to at least one TV screen, or more probably, a battery of them? Anyway, we do know that he did “chat with” NBC’s Arlo White during halftime -- presumably out in the corridor.

18 comments about "Referee gaffe does Dynamo a big favor".
  1. Chris Mitchell, November 12, 2012 at 4:51 a.m.

    Wow, that was a shocking call. Not only was Hainault grabbing Augusto by the arm, but he is tripping him as well. There is literally no way Augusto could have kept running after Hainault making contact with him.
    I imagine that were that foul to take place anywhere else on the pitch other than clear on goal, the ref would call it. The mandatory red card probably weighs on his mind and makes it easier to wave play on.

  2. Kent James, November 12, 2012 at 8:58 a.m.

    I think giving the "benefit of the doubt" to the defensive team is not part of a larger scheme to encourage defense, but rather a subset of "if you're going to give a red card, you'd better be absolutely sure you're right"...

  3. beautiful game, November 12, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.

    Walton gave a lame for Salazar, he swallowed his whistle on a number of rear assaults.

  4. Ken Jamieson, November 12, 2012 at 10:51 a.m.

    And the missed handball in the penalty area by the Galaxy early in their game against Seattle didn't affect that game?
    Funny how poor officiating that benefits the LA Galaxy is not subject to the same scrutiny as others.

  5. Carl Walther, November 12, 2012 at 12:37 p.m.

    When Refs.use their 'judgement' on whether a red card should be given, instead of following the rules of the game, it's the same as "game fixing."

  6. R2 Dad, November 12, 2012 at 1:20 p.m.

    Poor b*stard. Having been in similar situations, I know that in 5 years time this non-call is going to be haunting Salazar. A terrible advertisement for MLS and their referees.

  7. Miguel Dedo, November 12, 2012 at 3:37 p.m.

    Last week in a National Football League game a referee made a mistake in a game against the Redskins. The week after, the League reviewed the play/call, issued a statement that the referees had erred. The statement included also an apology and a confirmation that the result of the game would remain as played and called.
    Until MLS reaches that level of professionalism, its refereeing will not be credible.

  8. Kerry Ogden, November 12, 2012 at 6:20 p.m.

    Spot on Ken about the Seattle/LA game, I also saw the foul on Augusto by Hainault and it looked like Augusto bumped Hainault hard enough to knock him off his feet at full stride which caused the foul or so called foul. There was no intent on Hainault to take Augusto out, they were shoulder to shoulder which would be considered a 50/50 challenge! This is how I saw it. I'm not a fan of either team and yes it could be a contraversial call!

  9. Bill Anderson, November 13, 2012 at 7:56 a.m.

    @Ogden, your having a go at us aren't you? Winding us up? Giving us the Mickey? Salazar is a bafoon, note the Sigi Schmid suspension after his halftime tirade about his poor officiating a couple of weeks ago. MLS needs to issue an explanation and an apology, an "oops my bad" for the poor officiating of Salazar.

  10. Joy Hottington, November 13, 2012 at 8:54 a.m.

    Kerry, even Dominic Kinnear said he would have had no argument if it had been deemed a red. He knows he got a gift. You need to recognize it too. The fact that Walton backed up Salazar just makes MLS seem that much worse.

  11. Kerry Ogden, November 13, 2012 at 10:09 a.m.

    Sorry Bill and Joy, I saw what had happened from different angles and both players were shoulder to shoulder and the ball was not at either players feet at the time of the foul! Yes the call could of gone against Hainault but D. Kinnear has been around the game for many yrs. and knows the call could go either way. If DC gets beaten in round 2 you need to except that Houston was the better team, Seattle was also robbed of a PK on a handball and I also have a problem with ref's in general and it's not just in the MLS!!!!

  12. Miguel Dedo, November 13, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.

    Re Bill Anderson
    The issue is not Salazar nor is it "Is Salazar a buffoon?" It is one call.
    The matter of Salazar being an MLS referee is a different question - in answering it that one call is but a single element to be taken into account.

  13. Chris Sapien , November 13, 2012 at 2:18 p.m.

    I have been in this situation several times, and it is true you hesitate to pull out red, but what you don't do is hesitate to make a call entirely. That is where I have an issue! Had Augusto been much further wide when the pull down took place, then Walton's comment would have some merit. But since it occurred almost directly in front of a post just outside of the penalty "area", it should have been red. Salazar can't even use the excuse that he was caught between two thoughts, since he made no call at all! His discretion of whether the closet defender could have still challenged the attacker from where he was on the pitch, only applies when the foul is called to begin with. It is more likely that he contemplated calling Augusto for a foul on the initial contact with Hainault, since some influence is always on you to side with the player who first establishes a shoulder forward of the other player. But he lost his nerve to call that, then decided what happened after that was going to be considered fair, or rather 50/50 no foul. I'm just saying.

  14. Bob Dawson, November 13, 2012 at 2:32 p.m.

    Sorry guys ... if anything, this was a foul on the attacker who pushed off forcefully as the two were shoulder to shoulder. Additionally, defender has foot on the ball as he's going down. My two cents.

  15. Kent James, November 14, 2012 at 1:04 a.m.

    Ric, I refereed college for a long time and some lower level pro (as well as amateur of course), but your point is well taken. One of the hardest aspects of refereeing is that you can get 99/100 calls absolutely right, but you blow one significant call, and you've blown the game (and to be fair, from the player's/coaches/fans perspective, if that one call changed the outcome of the game, it's a cruel but fair assessment). Although I think this foul deserved a red card, I would guess that the reason Salazar was hesitant to give it was that the initial contact (which was quite forceful) was made by Augusto, which was almost a foul on him (as Bob Dawson suggests), though I don't think it rose to that level; the major foul was after being bumped off the ball, Hainault grabs Augusto's arm and pulls him down as he falls down. But this was not as obvious for Salazar as it was for us, because I believe Salazar was trailing the play, so he may not have seen this at all, and when you first look at it, it looks kind of like their legs get tangled (though even without the arm grab, this might be sufficient to call a foul, if it seems inadvertent, he might hesitate). Perhaps the AR could have helped Salazar out, but since it was such an important call, and Salazar was much closer to it, it would be tough for the AR to call it. But I do agree that the league should issue a statement something to the effect of "given time to review this play, the referee agrees that he should have issued a red card on the play, but referee error is part of the game, so the result stands".

  16. Sam Rogers, November 14, 2012 at 9:50 a.m.

    Too many refs don't want to influence a game by making that call but fail to see that they are influencing the game by NOT making the call. If you let players dictate what calls you make by their actions then you remove the filter of feeling responsible for influencing the game. Sure it is regrettable to send a player off for that challenge but that is why we as refs have the "4 D's" to evaluate mandatory red cards. Sure, we often try to find a way to determine that one of the 4 D's was not met but if they all were, the player must go.

  17. Bob Dawson, November 14, 2012 at 1:31 p.m.

    As a coach I insist to my players that the referee will never decide the outcome of the came. While referees are imperfect so are players and coaches. Show me the game where the players have played perfectly and the coach has coached perfectly and I'll show you a team up by about 10 goals so no referee's call or non-call will be relevant.
    Certainly the referee is part of the game but, review the game and I guarantee you will find many missed opportunities by DC. Had they capitalized on only one or two of them, it would have also changed the outcome of the game.
    Soccer is a game of failure. We move the ball up the field 50 or 100 times and, if we put the ball in the net once or twice, we celebrate and call it a good day. It is a wonderful metaphor for life because it's not how you succeed that matters so much as how you handle your failures.
    Focusing on the referees only relieves the players and coaches from the accountability they should shoulder, vowing to do better next time.

  18. Brian S, November 15, 2012 at 12:14 a.m.

    Bob Dawson - can I work your games? :) As a 2 year Youth, College Club, and HS ref, some of the behavior by coaches is just unbelievable. As if I'm out there missing passes, shots, and tactics. I will admit I'm more apt to give a coach that speaks up once a match a lot of leeway - and even think to myself "that coach probably has a point." As opposed to the constant whiners where I think things that shouldn't be printed anywhere. :)

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