Ref's failure to red-card Collin has major impact on MLS Cup

By Paul Gardner

Writing before MLS Cup, I picked out either Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales or Kansas City’s Aurelien Collin as MVP candidates.

It was a close run thing: Morales could have made sure of an RSL win -- and of his MVP award -- with a superb moment of skill in the 73rd minute, when his lovely chip caught KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen out of position ... but the ball hit the far post and did what never seems possible -- rebounded across the full width of the gaping goal without going in.

Just three minutes later Collin applied his own skill with an almost picture-book leap and a thumping header that leveled the score (another out-of-position screw up -- how come there wasn’t an RSL player guarding the post -- isn’t that considered standard practice at corner kicks?) Later, Collin scored a vital goal in the shootout -- another picture-book display of skill -- and the MVP crown was his, and a minute later MLS Cup belonged to Kansas City.

Justice done? As far as the result of the game goes, I really don’t know. This was a tight, scrappy, unattractive game -- as one had feared it would be -- without any obvious superiority for either team. Superiority in what, anyway? It would not have been in soccer, for so little real soccer was to be seen. Maybe it was in grittiness, or aggressiveness, or in fighting spirit or maybe it came down to the mother of all cliches, simply “wanting it more.”

I could detect no advantage to either team on any of those counts. So a shootout it would have to be, where luck assumes a much larger role in separating the inseparable. KC won the toss and kicked first -- and we know that is already a substantial advantage. With some bumps along the way, KC eventually made the most of that advantage. As we must, it seems, resort to the shootout to decide tight games, then KC were the fair and square winners.

But ... I have to seriously question whether this game should ever have reached the shootout stage. My problem is with the refereeing of Hilario Grajeda. In particular, with his lenient treatment of Collin.

Before Collin scored that crucial tying goal, he had committed seven fouls, and been yellow-carded. OK -- that is my count. The official count -- Grajeda’s count -- is four fouls and one yellow card. Grajeda did not call fouls in the 5th minute when Collin kicked Morales while making a late “tackle” that never got anywhere near the ball; nor in the 22nd minute when Collin kicked -- at knee level -- Robbie Findley’s legs out from under him -- again, no contact with the ball; nor in the 28th minute when Collin flattened Findley from behind -- there was questionable ball-contact in this one.

For me, those were clear fouls. Grajeda, well-placed to clearly see, did not call any of them. The foul on Findley in the 22nd minute was particularly bad, a yellow-card foul, yet Grajeda ignored it.

So we come to the 69th minute. Findley again - dribbling towards the KC penalty area, beat Collin with insulting ease -- so Collin belatedly and cynically tripped him. No doubt about the foul -- just about as obvious as you will see. And from a player already carrying a yellow.

Grajeda whistled for the foul ... and then chatted to Collin. No card. So Collin stayed in the game. When he should have been given a second yellow and ejected.

His foul was worth a yellow for two reasons: it was reckless (automatic yellow), it was tactical (automatic yellow). To that can be added “persistent fouling” (automatic yellow) -- by my count, that was Collin’s seventh foul, but even by Grajeda’s much more lenient math, it was his fourth, which should be enough.

But no, Grajeda preferred a cosy little chat. So Collin played on. Eight minutes later he scored the tying goal, much later came his vital shootout goal. Two key contributions from a player who should not have been on the field.

Maybe Kansas City, playing with only 10 men, would have found a way to win this game anyway. We’ll never know. But my point here is not to pick on Collin so much as to criticize referee Grajeda. When he had to make the one big call of the game, he blew it. By chatting.

I have been asking, for decades now, for someone -- a player or a referee -- to let us know exactly what it is a referee says when he lets a player off the hook like that. Perhaps we could be allowed to know this time?

There was plenty that was good about Grajeda’s refereeing, but I still found it disturbing. He chose to ignore physical fouls early in the game (by both sides), which is never a way to encourage good soccer. So we got a battle. A possible mitigating factor here is the fact that this was a final. It was always going to be tense. And, at a final, referees will always be under pressure -- some of it self-inflicted -- to keep 22 players on the field. Fine -- but they should not flagrantly disregard the rules to achieve that end. That is what Grajeda did.

Well, we’ve seen this sort of refereeing before. Refereeing that allows physical play to become the norm, refereeing that is reluctant to punish dangerous fouls, referees who prefer to chat rather than to issue a card.

That is pretty standard English Premier League refereeing. It is quite likely to distort games. I think it clearly did so here.
24 comments about "Ref's failure to red-card Collin has major impact on MLS Cup".
  1. Lydia Berggren, December 9, 2013 at 7:44 p.m.

    I agree completely! That was my first thought when Collin scored the tying goal--he shouldn't have been on the field because of that egregious take-out of Robbie Findley shortly before. I hadn't focused on the earlier fouls, but the one on Findley was so obvious.

  2. John Casey, December 9, 2013 at 7:45 p.m.

    absolutely agree. If this final doesn't prompt a review and overhaul of the refereeing at MLS, I don't know what will! Great article.

  3. John Soares, December 9, 2013 at 7:49 p.m.

    I also agree... and would add that more calls early in the game "probably" would have contribute to a much better game.

  4. Thomas Sullivan, December 9, 2013 at 7:51 p.m.

    Mr. Gardner
    Please, please keep writing these articles. Maybe you can help to shift the attitude governing the refereeing and the persistent fouling culture that now dominates soccer. To borrow a phrase from the Irish in the northeast "Call them early and often."

  5. Tom Symonds, December 9, 2013 at 7:52 p.m.

    Completely agree. To add to the farce was the comment from the broadcasting team (Healy and Twellman) that this was "good refereeing"…not giving a second yellow because it would have dramatically affected the match. Too bad! It's the players' job to play the game according to the laws of the game. If they don't play according to the laws, they should be punished in accordance with the laws - hence the referee's job. For the referee to arbitrarily decide who should be punished and when (I have never seen anything in the laws of the game that says fouls in the last half should be treated differently than those in the first half) is not what he should be doing. But as long as rough play, "clever" play, "full-blooded" play, diving and other cheating is allowed by referees and even extolled/excused by the media, we will continue to see the kind of Collin farce that you exposed. Shameful that the beautiful game is being prostituted by ugly play and referees who owe their livelihood to a league that fancies itself as the second coming of the NFL…thank you, Don Garber.

  6. Allan Lindh, December 9, 2013 at 8:07 p.m.

    Right on, Mr Gardner. Only thing you didn't mention is that Collins is guilty of the most fouls in the league, and his team "lead" in same category. It is a way of life, a strategy. But this can't be laid on the individual ref, this is clearly a league directive to "let the boys play." Or as the kids say, "Cheaters win, and winner's cheat."

    Shame on you MLS. You're a bush league, and will be until you get some guts in the front office. KC has an asterisk next to this win.

    Time for those who actually love the Beautiful Game to start writing advertisers on MLS broadcasts saying that we will boycott their products until the league cleans up their act. One hundred letters would probably do it.

  7. Collin Braden, December 9, 2013 at 8:12 p.m.

    I agree with the fact that the game was reffed in a way that made the game chippy but the fact of the matter is both teams had plays that should have been called yellows and even a red on the tackle of Sapong in the box and result in a PK also you can't say that Collin deserved a yellow and not call out this tackle by Borchers. The problem with this article is it only points out the fouls that weren't called against SKC when both teams benefited from the reffing so while I agree with some of the argument you can't blame the game on the ref's when both teams could have had less than 11 on the field and for RSL quite possibly two red cards. See this GIF for proof. Also on a side note Lawrence Olum played the game with a broken leg and Jimmy Neilson with broken ribs so I don't know about you but that shows some dedication that RSL lacked.

  8. Gil Weber, December 9, 2013 at 8:16 p.m.

    If you recorded the game check out this blatant, unpunished misconduct.

    Second half, movement starts at 49:12. KC #14 has the ball and passes it out toward his right wing. He then starts a run straight up the center of the field trying to get position for a return pass.

    Then watch what happens as he enters the RSL penalty area. See 49:24.

    One has to wonder if that blatant, off the ball foul and misconduct was seen by any of the officials.

    If it was seen is this now deemed acceptable in MLS?


  9. Gil Weber, December 9, 2013 at 8:19 p.m.

    Collin Braden's gif is the incident I described.

    How in the world did Borcher's stay in the game?

  10. Collin Braden, December 9, 2013 at 8:22 p.m.

    Gil Weber Exactly if i can find a gif of when Sapong was pulled down in the goalie box with the ball in front of him and an open net that would have been any easy score I will post it

  11. Collin Braden, December 9, 2013 at 8:35 p.m.

    Yeah found it Gil Weber at about the 7:49 mark in the highlights there is almost a blatant yellow if not red card when someone grabs Sapong in the box.

  12. Ken Jamieson, December 9, 2013 at 8:44 p.m.

    Both RSL and SKC have reputations of playing more physical than finesse football, the style that apparently is what MLS believes fans in the US desire. With this in mind, it can only be surmised that Mr. Grajeda's instructions were to "let 'em play!" I am sure the TV numbers for this game were well below the last couple finals, given that neither team has a true marquee players like Beckham or Henry. by engendering this style of play MLS risks losing real football fans in favor of individuals who should be watching WWE, MMF or the NHL.

  13. Robin Samms, December 9, 2013 at 8:47 p.m.

    Absolutely agree, another typical example of the deplorable state of refeering in MLS. I can't help but feel that the League ordered "no Red Cards".

  14. Zoe Willet, December 9, 2013 at 8:58 p.m.

    I too agree with everything that has been said so far. I just want to add that I found it an egregious error to give Collin MVP. I believe it should have gone to Nielsen. (By the way, is there some rule that goalies cannot be the MVP?) Another thing that has been bothering me: I am really sick and tired of these vicious players, like Gattuso and Collin, but I think the blame should fall on the manager. IMHO, all they need to do is to tell their player not to be like that and it would cease immediately.

  15. John Casey, December 9, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.

    Collin MVP - how bizarre and asinine a decision is that. The poor referring and this decision (to make Collin MVP) proves that the league just doesn't get it. Besides the fact that he deserved a red card for the blatant foul on Findley as described so well by Mr Gardner (and I should add- no RSL player came close to number of blatant and tactical fouls he committed), he also gave away the first goal with an poor pass that gave Beckerman the ball (and led to the RSL goal)

  16. Kent James, December 9, 2013 at 11:24 p.m.

    I completely agree with the sentiments expressed by everyone here. I was in disbelief when the referee failed to call the Collins foul on Findlay, where he kicks Findlays legs out from under him. I thought, surely I did not just see what I thought I saw, the ref was right there looking at it and did not call it (which I think was the announcer's reaction). But when they showed the replay, it was indeed as bad as everyone thought. I deplore the idea that it is the ref's job to keep players in the game. If a player deserves a card, he should get it, otherwise you're doing a disservice to players who do deserve to stay in the game. Either refs should get the backbone to give out cards whenever they're deserved (even in the first minute of the game, or in a final) and the league should support them for doing so, or, change the rule so that a team can substitute (if they have subs left) someone for the player ejected. That way you punish the player without changing the nature of the game. I think referees would also be much more likely to eject players (and I would hope that doing so would crack down on the fouling).

  17. Millwall America, December 10, 2013 at 12:07 a.m.

    The sad fact is this column is terribly one-sided because it only talks about one team. How did RSL play and was the referee lenient with their fouls as well? The Laws of the Game are not proscriptive and leave much (rightly so) to the referee's judgment. A referee can be strict or lenient on fouls at their discretion. The problems arise when the referee is inconsistent -- strict on one team and lenient on the other. Since Paul's column doesn't mention anything about RSL's behavior, I'm guessing it's because they were pretty free with the fouling as well and the ref let them get away with it too -- otherwise Paul would have mentioned it. Sorry, if the ref lets both teams play and doesn't call fouls on either, it's hard to complain that one team was treated unfairly.

  18. Kelly Ross, December 10, 2013 at 12:41 a.m.

    I never thought I'd see that day that I would agree with Paul Gardner. The scourge and pressure on referees not to impact a game due to poor play or behavior continues to be an derisive issue plaguing the modern game. Broadcast stations need the players for rating purposes. Fans need the players for value added ticket purchases. The entertainment spectacle needs the controversy to drive fan base , viewership and sponsorship. But the game; the integrity of the game and spirit of the game suffers tremendously and perpetuates a continuous bad example of acceptable play. Can you imagine Peter Vermes' actions on the sidelines if Collin had been dismissed? As if Vermes was not animated enough during the scrap match. The failure to dismiss Collin is akin to Howard Webb's failure to send off The Netherland's Nigel de Jong for his Kung Fu Kick On Xabi Alonsoin in the 2010 FIFA WC final. Collin should have been dismissed. Officiating is never easy; especially during the finals. But alas, it was very cold in Kansas City that afternoon. And it is the holiday season after all. Season's greetings! Congratulations to Sporting KC. Now if only the KC Chiefs can get to the NFL's Super Bowl.

  19. R2 Dad, December 10, 2013 at 12:46 a.m.

    I think everyone here is appalled by the officiating, but the people marketing this MLS "product" know their demographics much better than the international standards you all are used to. I'm sure there was plenty of "action" and contact--just the excitement the advertisers were promised. No, we got exactly what MLS believes the American soccer public wants. It's free lunch! More contact means more excitement and more impassioned fans. Also of note: Keeper slamming the ball against the ground--delay of game and should have warranted a talking-to at the very least. Collin climbed over his marker on that header he scored on--should have been disallowed. Sapong dragged down in the box is a card and pk. Both teams had more long balls than a pre-Hughes Stoke City team.

  20. Mark Buckley, December 10, 2013 at 7:24 a.m.

    As a neutral, I was stunned at the brutal fouls committed by KC. It made the game unwatchable. And the ESPN coverage of this soccer game disguised as a rugby match forced me to switch to UniMas since I don't speak Spanish.

  21. Amos Annan, December 10, 2013 at 8:04 a.m.

    I am glad the ref did not card Collin. Red cards are too much of a penalty for fouls of this type. The rules should be changed so that a player can be sent off and the team not have to play down a man.

  22. Albert Harris, December 10, 2013 at 9:27 a.m.

    I find Amos' idea intriguing. Never thought of it before but it has merit. The refs would be far more likely to use the red card and get the egregious fouler out of the match if they knew that the team wouldn't be a man down. I would think if all substitutions had been used, the team would play a man down as now. Other thoughts on this?

  23. Hank Tomlinson, December 10, 2013 at 11:26 a.m.

    I trust we'll see much better officiating for this weekend's College Cup. I very much want to be a fan of MLS soccer. As a season ticket holder of the New Mexico Lobos, I've gotten to see first hand many MLS players during their college years. For all the reasons cited here, the MLS Cup was a disaster. I had the feeling that a Lionel Messi-type would simply have been bludgeoned out of the game.

  24. Kent James, December 11, 2013 at 9:51 p.m.

    Ric, I thought one of the justifications that Platini used made a lot of sense; yellow card accumulations punish the fouling team against their next opponent, while the aggrieved team gets no respite. Forcing the player to sit out 15 minutes of the current game benefits the aggrieved team directly. The only thing I wouldn't like as a ref, is to have to track the penalties (not a problem once you have a 4th official, but most lower levels don't). Albert, I agree with you and Amos on the red cards (see my earlier post on this article).

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