It was rather surprising to see a badly botched offside call during the Brighton-Arsenal game because they are rare these days -- on the whole, the AR’s do a great job of getting even the closest calls correct.
Would that the referees themselves would show the same accuracy when dealing with physical fouls -- especially when they are committed by defenders in the penalty area. That English referees are slow to call physical fouls is no secret. This was Manchester City’s coach Pep Guardiola recently: “I know contact is more allowed here than in any other country, but there are limits.”
Whatever those limits are, they were surely trampled on by referee Stuart Attwell during the Brighton-Arsenal game. In the first half, he yellow-carded Arsenal defender Sead Kolasinac -- for dissent. But at the 65-minute mark Kolasinac smashed into Brighton’s Ezequiel Schelotto at full speed, violently slamming his shoulder into Schelotto’s face.
Schelotto needed over three and a half minutes of onfield treatment before he hobbled off and was substituted. Enough, surely to earn Kolasinac a second yellow, even a straight red. But not in Attwell’s view, he didn’t even whistle for a foul.
A couple of blatantly physical fouls were ignored by referee Michael Oliver in the Manchester City-Chelsea game. At 7 minutes, Chelsea’s Willian tried to start a Chelsea counterattack. He didn’t get very far, just a few yards, before City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko stepped across his path with a wild left-footed kick that got the ball and Willian’s left foot; Zinchenko’s leg then made contact with Willian’s thigh and waist. Willian was bowled over, but Oliver, a mere 3 yards away, saw nothing wrong.
Later in the first half Willian, again with the ball at his feet, was confronted by Man City defender Nicolas Otamendi, who lunged forward with his right leg. He made no contact with the ball, but by turning his body, planted his shoulder and arm into Willian’s chest, shoving him roughly to the turf. No whistle from Oliver.
We can now take a look at MLS. The refereeing here, sadly, reflects the laxity in the English game. No surprise there -- such a development was always likely when MLS made the ill-informed choice of an English ex-referee -- Peter Walton -- to head up PRO.
Of course Walton brought his English style with him -- what else would he know?
It is to be hoped that Walton’s successor, Howard Webb, another Brit, will overcome his English style bias. He might want to start by trying to work out why two really quite awful non-calls, both involving physical fouls, marred the MLS opening weekend.
As Bob Bradley’s brand new Los Angeles FC pulled off an unexpected 1-0 win over Seattle, they won’t be too upset that they were denied a penalty kick in the second half. Carlos Vela, dribbling the ball into the Seattle penalty area was crudely taken down by Handwalla Bwana. Clear to see -- no other players were involved. But referee Jose Rivero said no.
A little later that Sunday evening, the other LA team, the Galaxy, were also denied a penalty when Portland’s Marco Farfan rashly slid in on Michael Ciani, bringing him down without contacting the ball. No call from referee Jair Marrufo.
Quite possibly, not too much will be made of those two errors, because neither affected the game result. But Webb should surely want to know how two such obvious fouls were simply ignored. I think he will already know the reason. And I’m hoping that he will know what to do about it: To alter the pernicious English mindset that seems to encourage referees to avoid calling penalty kicks.
Oddly enough -- or is this also part of a conspiracy to banish penalty kicks? -- VAR, much vaunted by Webb, did not intervene in either case, although both non-calls would seem to be exactly the sort of situation that brought about the invention of the VAR.
But despair not, ye fans of VAR, all was not lost on Sunday. And it stood firm on the see-no-evil front. In the Kansas City-New York City game, Mark Geiger has the audacity to call a penalty kick against the New Yorkers. Enter the VAR, resulting in the cancellation of the penalty. Way to go, VAR.