D.C. United vs. Orlando -- and a glaring VAR failure that MLS needs to explain

Back in February, MLS referee boss, Howard Webb, was asked some very specific questions by Soccer America’s Mike Woitalla. What Woitalla wanted to know was whether MLS referees would be taking any action against aggressive goalkeepers during the upcoming season?

Webb’s reply was, on the whole, encouraging. Yes, he said, the situation was being monitored, and referees are “being told to be vigilant and firm in terms of challenges by goalkeepers that are deemed worthy of being penalized in the same way that an outfield player [would be penalized]. If the actions of a goalkeeper are careless, reckless or using excessive force, then the player will be penalized.”

The words are clear enough, the intentions are commendable. But what we see on the field is much less satisfactory. I have already commented on several instances of goalkeeper violence this MLS season in which the goalkeeper was not penalized.

What makes that doubly disappointing is the introduction of VAR. If referees are reluctant to penalize goalkeepers (obviously, they are), or find it difficult to identify their fouls (evidently they do), now we have the option of VAR replay scanning to set matters aright.

You would think. And you would be quite wrong. Yesterday’s DC United-Orlando game gave us unassailable evidence that Webb’s statement quoted above is being ignored.

Not that VAR Jorge Gonzalez was asleep — he had plenty to do in this game, and did it well enough. He spotted a red-card foul by Orlando’s Cristian Higuita that referee Jose Carlos Rivero had missed, then correctly over-ruled an offside call, a decision that allowed Luciano Acosta to score his second goal for D.C.

That second incident, however, featured not only a borderline offside call, but also some wildly violent physical play from Orlando’s goalkeeper Joe Bendik.

As Gonzalez, in his VAR cell, was closely studying that play, it is simply inconceivable that he was unaware of Bendik’s thuggery.

As Acosta moved onto the ball, Bendik came racing toward him — arms waving, knee raised, studs showing, presumably “making himself big,” as keeper-slang euphemistically has it — and simply jumped into Acosta. To be noted: by the time Bendik (6-foot-2, 217 pounds) smashed into Acosta (5-3, 130), Acosta had already played the ball toward the goal. Bendik never got anywhere near the ball, which rolled nicely underneath his frantic jump, and into the net.

The inevitable collision was less brutal than it might have been — both players, at the last moment, tried to avoid it, Bendik turning to his left, Acosta to his left, with the merciful result that it was Bendik’s right hip, rather than his knee, that hit Acosta’s head.

By any reasonable assessment, Bendik’s flailing jump into Acosta was surely “endangering the safety of an opponent” — which is a red-card offense. All the evidence was there for VAR Gonzalez (and referee Rivero, for that matter) to assess. Bendik should have been red-carded. A penalty kick, which could have been called, was not necessary as the goal was allowed.

In fact, this incident was not handled at all well. We had a violent — and very visible — hip-to-head clash ... so how come the concussion protocol was not used? Acosta went down, but got up quite quickly, holding his face. Surely, referee Rivero should have immediately waved the D.C. United medical team on to the field? Surely the medics should have insisted on looking at Acosta? Yet Acosta received no treatment at all.

He played the rest of the game (some 35 minutes) and scored a remarkable winning goal for D.C. United, so you can say he must have been OK. Except that with concussion, you never know. The protocol is meant to ensure that head injuries are taken seriously.

The whole incident took three minutes to develop (all the delay was the result of VAR assessment). When play restarted, Acosta was still gingerly feeling his face.

The referees, then, do not come out of this looking too good. But the TV commentators do. For once. It’s refreshing to report that JP Dellacamera and Alexi Lalas quickly realized that a bad foul had been committed. Watching the replay, Lalas affirmed “That’s a foul ... if that happens in the middle of the field that’s a red card.” As we awaited the VAR decision, JP reported “We could be looking at a double VAR here, where he gives the goal and a red card.”  Then, “But he’s not going to give Bendik anything.”

Lalas: “He can go back and give red card or a yellow ...” and then, with an indignant squawk, “... but nothing?

I must repeat: it is absolutely impossible for anyone (I mean the VAR, of course) to study this incident and to remain unaware of Bendik’s foul. So this can not be a case of the foul not having been seen. Rather, it was deliberately ignored.  

That amounts to a refusal to abide by the guidelines on goalkeeper violence, quoted above, that Howard Webb laid down at the beginning of the season.

How come the VAR spotted Higuita’s elbow (that needed some close scanning to detect) but did not see Bendik’s foul, which was blatant and there for all to see?

Are Webb’s guidelines for real, then? Or are they just so many words, easily ignored as such warnings have been in the past, because no one wants to discipline goalkeepers?

28 comments about "D.C. United vs. Orlando -- and a glaring VAR failure that MLS needs to explain".
  1. beautiful game, August 13, 2018 at 4:01 p.m.

    Webb is a joke and con-man. His EPL & international track record of refereeing is consistent with his being the MLS director of officiating. Derelict in his duties in the past and present. How can anyone trust this con. Petrescu et al are his apostles and follow  Webb's "LOTG interpretations" to the T.

  2. Ric Fonseca, August 13, 2018 at 4:57 p.m.

    True re: the "con-man" designation.  As I've said in past comments, US Soccer in general - the national soccer playing communities," NOT the folks in Chicago's Soccer House, has by now produced hundreds and very possibily thousands of coaches, administrators, game officials, at least since the mid-late 70's. enough of us/them to step into the halls of coaching, administering, officating, etc. to tell the folks at Soccer House and MLS that enough of having to bring over ex-pat Euros, former and aging Latinos, etc., who tout themselves as being the "know-it-alls."  Those of us who've been in the trenches since then know only too well, that try as we may, we're still overlooked, ignored, and seeing as "babes in soccer arms" and therefore aren't well taught and learned anough to take over the job, say as PG says about Webb.  It begs to ask just how much longer we, in the trenches are going to accept being looked at as "babes in arms," and the only way to find out is to ask the likes od Dr. Machniks, JP, even Lalas, and, yes, Brucie Arena, Sigi Schmid to find and nominate potential and experienced "home-grown soccer people."  
    But to continue to rely on retired, or "former" officials, coaches, administrators from the other side of the pond, must stop.  We will not know about the caliber of our home grown folks until we put them on the job and on the line.  Webb, as PG has continuously said, just came over to tout his supposed knowledge as an official, and it is high time he is sent home or he steps down, heck we could and should appoint Geiger (sp) to the head job, in charge of PRO, 'cause, heck they (MLS/US Soccer) have given us a bike with training wheels, so it is time to take them off and start pedaling that ten speed around the track or go on a cross-country trip stopping off at the major MLS cities, as well as the other state associations - youth, recreational and adult, male and female.  PLAY ON? 

  3. beautiful game replied, August 14, 2018 at 9:23 a.m.

    Rick ; well put. Unfortunately, Webb won't leave and the commissioner is his enabler. There are plenty of qualified soccer officials here at home who would do a better job than Webb et al. For MLS, it's the public perception of Webb, an overseas "expert". 

  4. Bill Riviere, August 13, 2018 at 4:58 p.m.

    Certainly a bad foul not really seen well by a referee who was seemingly 30-35 yards from the play.  He probably didn't really know what happened, but that's no excuse.  So, where was the AR, who should have flagged it, even if the ref decided not to call it instantly.

    As for the VAR not understanding what happened?  Well, that would seem to be a pretty egregious derieiction of duty.  He should be sent off and miss a game or two.

  5. Bill Riviere, August 13, 2018 at 5 p.m.

    Above word should be "dereliction" of duty

  6. s fatschel, August 13, 2018 at 5:39 p.m.

    PG you and MW are wasting your time with MLS safety.  Much more important is the NCAA and youth soccer, many more and younger players that are not being paid.

  7. frank schoon, August 13, 2018 at 5:41 p.m.

    After reading PG and the comments of you guys, I was placed in a frame of mind of seeing something so belligerent and obvious ,something like the Harold Schumacher collision in the WC'82 which was sickening. Well, I've watched the video 5 times and I don't see it and therefore I can understand why the ref didn't call anything. I didn't even get a feel or sense or nuance of someting wrong or not kosher. 

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, August 13, 2018 at 10:24 p.m.

    Frank I saw it live, real time and the keeper had no chance at the ball and kneed the defenseless player in the head. I didn't need a replay to see this a straight red. I wouldn't have been upset at a yellow, but no card at all is sickening. 

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, August 13, 2018 at 10:26 p.m.

    Frank forget the video. Look at the two pictures in the article. The keeper is not playing the ball. He is playing the standing opponents head when the ball was struck with the foot near the ground.

  10. frank schoon replied, August 14, 2018 at 9:22 a.m.

    Bob, I looked at both pictures then I played the video a few more times with the pictures in mind. I come up with a totally different conclusion. I don't see it and to me he drew his knee back to avoid hitting him besides trying to protect himself in the eventual collision and I reached that conclusion after watching it a total of about 10times. You might be totally right and I'm totally wrong but that is not the issue here. The point is that this particular play can be viewed in different ways and it therefore understandable that the ref didn't call anything.

  11. frank schoon replied, August 14, 2018 at 10:05 a.m.

    Bob, I"ve been reading van Hanegem's book"Outside left"( referring  outside of the leftfoot since he was known for using the outside of his left foot passing the ball).Youtube'"Forgotten Footballers-Willem van Hanegem in the 1974/WC". Just watch the passes he makes with his golden left foot).
    He is known as the second Cruyff as far as knowledge of the game goes. Although, Johan Cruyff was voted the MVP of '74WC, many insiders thought it was Van Hanegem that was the best player of this WC. I remember the Brazilian fans watching him calling "DIDI" the great Brazilian midfielder.  I wish this 400 page book was in English for he gives so much 'inside' details about the game, Total Soccer what it really was, his opinions on the current soccer balls and the effect it has on the game tactically, technically and physically, how Barcelona really played. I think I've underlined the whole book. He also has a weekly column.This pass week he explains why you never want to see 4 players up front at any moment positioned square and how it should be done,for he saw this in the one of the pro-games. This guy a gold mine of soccer knowledge, I can imagine him as color commetator here what a whole new world the fans would see and learn.
    Another book I"m reading is called "The fall of Orange" by Pieter Zwart,  who I think one of the best upcoming soccer journalist of Cruyff was also high on. Again not in English,but I will keep my eye open for you it does come in english. And I still haven't begun the van Gaal book as yet.

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, August 14, 2018 at 7:06 p.m.

    Guess I will have to watch a clip a few times.

    As to no yellow, trying to avoid contact at the last minute doesn't negate reckless play endangering the opponent in the first place. Contact is contact regardless of intentions. There would be no point to recognizing merely careless play because of the goal, but remember the original call was I think off sides so that would have stopped play before the keeper's foul (if it had not been corrected). Difficult to know what the referee thought of the keeper's play.

  13. frank schoon replied, August 14, 2018 at 9:08 p.m.

    Bob, check this out.. the upcoming star of Ajax , he 21 and Barcelona is interested.
    Youtube, “Frenkie de Jong, the diamond of Ajax”.  Look st his his passes and ball handling skills

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, August 14, 2018 at 10:13 p.m.

    Wow. The article I read said that Ajax didn't want to sell him. I think that is not true at all. Ajax doesn't want to sell him yet. He is only 21. Hard to imagine that he is going to get even better. He definitely has the skills and vision to make a stellar pivot for some club like Barca. But then he looked like he could play anywhere. My first thought was "can he cross"?

    Until I read the article I didn't realize he was playing CB for Ajax last year.   

  15. frank schoon replied, August 15, 2018 at 6:52 a.m.

    Bob, he plays a Beckenbauer type CB. This what I ‘ve been saying for so long that we need to get away from the contemporary roles of how CBs play, it is too restrictive , producing stiffs in the backfield. It opens the way soccer is played in this manner.. i’m so fed up with how  the current soccer is being played, too boring, too predictable.
    i had suggested 2 years ago for Pogba to play this role like de Jong as a CB for he is a talented player.
    Mourinho , the other day has suggested just that at Man Utd.
    It is refreshing to see Frenkie fulfills this role and I hope we will see a change in US soccer, whereby we will see more creative players coming from the back, a la attacking sweeper again. I wish Frenkie would develop his outside of his right as well for medium to long passes. He wants to play another year for Ajax to develop further. He has already so much poise on the ball....

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, August 15, 2018 at 11:42 a.m.

    Think about the conventionalism of the Dutch FA. You cannot expect innovation from USSF or other conventional thinkers. (This is a comment about organizations--take the individual out of the organization's conventional culture and that individual may be very innovation.) Innovation comes from the unconventional and the risk takers. So we need a professional club here to be our Ajax of the late 1960s.

    This may not be well received, but the most innovative coach that I saw in MLS was Bruce Arena. In particular I am thinking of how sometimes he dropped a CM passer into the CB position while in possession to provide the kind of skills you are talking about. This also changed the attacking shape to a Dutch-like 3 in the back. 

    The MLS roster rules are good for business but require teams to rebuild every year. That is very limiting as far as tactical innovation goes.

  17. frank schoon replied, August 15, 2018 at noon

    Yeah, I agree with you about outside influences, it has to come from an individual/coach/team.
    It won't come from the USSF or the Coaching for they only copy what the rest of the world innovation there. This is why Holland is so lucky to have a club like Ajax who supports creative play and will always produce some good individualists ,although they should be doing better...Bruce Arena is not an innovator, he copies what he sees out there in the soccer. He is not innovator, very few coaches are ,and this why I"m so bored about soccer is being played today. It is so predictable. I want to see the first American go back to an attacking type of CB like Frenkie. As soon as teams in Europe begin to change into this type of attack, all of sudden you'll see follow suit and then you'll see the women's follow...Everyone just follows trends 

  18. uffe gustafsson, August 13, 2018 at 7:15 p.m.

    Is it me or am I not seeing things properly.
    but I see defenders coming thru the backs of the attackers and no fouls called. Just watched USA vs Paraguay game, but not limited to that game.
    but most games I watch. It seem to me it’s damn near impossible for defender not first going thru the attacker before getting to the ball.
    i seen some really bad tackles from behind but never a call. It’s like the norm to do that.
    am I in the wrong here?

  19. beautiful game replied, August 14, 2018 at 12:15 p.m.

    "Selected fouls" go unpunished because people like Webb et al make the rules in order to keep the flow of the game going while underming the LOTG. Con artists par excellence.

  20. uffe gustafsson, August 13, 2018 at 7:40 p.m.

    Frank not really understanding your post?
    was it a bad foul that ref didn’t call or you don’t see anything wrong. Think you contradict yourself in your wording? Read your last sentence.

  21. frank schoon replied, August 13, 2018 at 8:05 p.m.

    Uffe, what I mean in my last sentence was that I don’t even get an impression that this goalie Is doing anything wrong or shady ,like you see sometimes when player makes a tackle you can tell if he is attempting to go for the ball or just the legs. I’m at a total loss to see anything badly all  in this play. 

  22. uffe gustafsson, August 13, 2018 at 7:40 p.m.

    Frank not really understanding your post?
    was it a bad foul that ref didn’t call or you don’t see anything wrong. Think you contradict yourself in your wording? Read your last sentence.

  23. uffe gustafsson, August 13, 2018 at 7:41 p.m.

    Why it post twice?

  24. frank schoon replied, August 13, 2018 at 8:07 p.m.

    Uffe , this happens to everybody...I know it has happened a couple of times with me big deal.....

  25. Austin Gomez, August 13, 2018 at 9:33 p.m.

    Interested GENTLEMEN of Soccer and also to my renown & long-time Soccer friend, Paul Gardner: 

    Perhaps, ('Technically-speaking' these 2 consecutive incidents may be insignificant, BUT ......), WHY did Not D.C. goal-scorer, Roberto Acosta, NOT receive 2 deserved YC-Misconducts (equaling a RC-Misconduct) for his Actions, after the very suspenseful & magnificent GOAL was scored by Roberto in 'Stoppage Time' in last night's most thriling Match, (with the real/true Hero being Sir Wayne Rooney)? ....... First, Roberto going into the Stands to get involved (like being 'Stuck-In' as the British phrase reads), with his blatant 'Celebration' with the Spectators (NOT allowed via Law 12), and secondly, then Roberto's taking-off his Jersey in still 'celebrating' this Goal, (which lasted over 2 mins.)!  ..........  Perhaps, I should think that the the MLS Disciplinary Panel shall look into this 'mandatory' matter, (due to their 'meticulous' watchfulness of 'possible' ERRORS on MLS Referees and Crews!  .......  The 'VAR-System' could NOT rule on that matter ---- (NOT being One of the 4 'Game-Chaning' Categories, however ---- but nevertheless, these were 2 'MANDATED' Cautions, that this Referee MUST issue to Roberto, before the 'KICK-OFF' Restart will take place!  But this subsequent RC-Misconduct  was NOT undertaken, (very strange-to-say)! ........  I was quite surprised this was NOT mentioned also in your (always) thought-provoking Column!  -----  [Just a Thought, Paul G. and Ric Fonseca]!

  26. Kent James, August 14, 2018 at 12:41 a.m.

    Sorry guys, I'm with Frank on this one.  This is not a Schumaker "take him out because I can't get the ball" obvious red card (another significant difference is Acosta scored).  While I could only see the video clip (and the ad) that was posted with the article not long enough and no slow-motion, this strikes me as a situation where the GK is advancing towards the attacker to cut down the angle (and yes, make himself big); while he is 2nd to the ball, he has a soccer reason (as opposed to a thuggish reason) to continue to approach (cutting down the angle).  He can't do anything about the size differences in size.  It looks to me like his right leg forward is not the classic aggressive GK jumping and leading with his leg to clear space, but rather part of his motion forward (and jumping because the ball is in the air, not on the ground).  While it is fair to criticize the goalkeeper for recklessness, this sort of collision is inherent in the position (akin to diving at the feet of a striker getting ready to shoot).  I can understand a yellow (and a PK if the goal had not been scored), but given they scored, a red seems a tad harsh.

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, August 14, 2018 at 12:43 a.m.

    Like I replied to Frank. Forget the video. Look at the two pictures in the article. The keeper is not playing the ball. He is playing the standing opponents head when the ball was struck with the foot near the ground.

  28. humble 1, August 14, 2018 at 2:53 p.m.

    Should have been red-carded.  Was not playing ball at all - very clumsy and only by chance was the player was not injured - looked like there was intent to smash him by GK - but in keeping with shambolic GK frequently on display in MLS - and fortunately for both parties - the attempt pumelling failed.  

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