By Randy Vogt
"Play the whistle!" might be the exhortation of soccer coaches but it did not apply in two MLS games this year. That's because the referee mistakenly blew the whistle before a goal was scored and then allowed the goal to stand.
In the Aug. 19 Red Bulls-Portland Timbers game, Jason Anno blew the whistle for a Red Bulls penalty kick for a handling foul inside the penalty area. The ball then rebounded from Portland defender David Horst’s arm to the Red Bulls’ Tim Cahill, who shot and scored. As the ball was going toward the goal, Anno blew his whistle for the PK, then allowed the goal to stand. He should have taken the ball out of the net and given a penalty kick instead, which most likely would have been scored anyway.
There would not have been an easy remedy for Mark Kadlecik’s unfortunate whistle and signal for a corner kick as the ball was near the Montreal goal on May 26 at Colorado. The wind kept the ball from going over the goal line, deflecting off Montreal keeper Greg Sutton’s hand, then hitting the crossbar twice, bouncing down and being headed for the game-winning goal by Colorado’s Jaime Castrillon.
There were other head-scratching decisions this year as well. One that comes to mind is ref Ricardo Salazar, after the Red Bulls’ Rafa Marquez obviously held San Jose’s Shea Salinas on the previous corner kick at Red Bull Arena on April 14, allowed Marquez to hold Salinas on the next corner kick, body-slam him and then kick him in the face, injuring him in the process. Perhaps the kick was inadvertent but Marquez’s poor disciplinary record would not suggest that.
I had given Salazar very high marks in my article on his performance in the 2011 MLS Cup Final. One of my few qualms was that he could have given Houston’s Andre Hainault a second caution in the 89th minute for a late challenge on David Beckham at midfield. Hainault is the same player that Salazar should have been sent off in the D.C. United game last Sunday as Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner pointed out.
In another head-scratching decision, this time by ref Hilario Grajeda on May 23, Chicago’s Marco Pappa and a FC Dallas defender encroached three yards into the penalty area when Chicago’s Sebastián Grazzini took a penalty kick. The ball rebounded to Pappa and Grajeda allowed the goal to stand. As a player from both teams was clearly in the penalty area too soon, the kick should have been retaken whether it went into the goal or not. I’m not a fan of calling encroachment on PKs if the player is a silly millimeter inside the penalty area but this was blatant.
Yet for every poor MLS officiating decision that is being talked about, there are nine good calls being made. As just one example, referee Mark Geiger correctly disallowing Kenny Cooper’s penalty kick goal vs. D.C. United last Thursday night when three Red Bulls players, including Thierry Henry, who was almost parallel to the penalty spot when the ball was kicked, encroached. Before the PK, the superb NBC commentator Arlo White said that Cooper stutter-steps when approaching the ball. If White knew that, how come his Red Bulls teammates did not as the stutter-step helped cause them to be in the penalty area well before the ball was kicked?
The game was wonderfully refereed by Geiger. He got the two red cards (to DC United keeper Bill Hamid and Red Bulls defender Marquez) absolutely correct. He got the penalty kick decision correct plus the encroachment. Four important decisions that were all correct.
Add the fact that longtime MLS assistant referee Greg Barkey saw that D.C. United's Nick DeLeon was just onside before he scored the only goal of the game and the superb officiating helped create an epic second half.
I understand that one game does not make a season but we’ll find out in the next couple of weeks if the high quality of that performance led to Geiger being assigned the MLS Cup Final.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at http://www.preventiveofficiating.com/)