First Hudson River Derby mired in controversy

The New York Red Bulls rallied to beat NYCFC, 2-1, in Sunday's Hudson River Derby, the first meeting of MLS's two New York teams.

The winning goal was scored by Daniel Royer, whose second goal of the game followed a quick throw-in the 60th minute, and had an immediate impact in the standings, pushing the Red Bulls from sixth to third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

But the controversy over the throw-in call -- or more important, to change the call from a corner kick to throw-in -- will go down in MLS lore.

What was all the fuss? Assistant referee Corey Rockwell pointed his flag downward toward the corner flag, the signal for a corner kick, after an NYCFC clearance. Referee Alan Kelly changed the call, ruling it was a throw-in. The problem: that message never got to NYCFC players, who switched off, thinking they needed to set up for a corner kick.

But the Red Bulls’ Marc Rzatkowski picked up the ball and took a throw-in, playing the ball to Cristian Casseres Jr., who crossed it into the box, where Royer headed it beyond goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Johnson went nuts, arguing with referee Alan Kelly that he and his teammates had believed it was a corner kick.

“To be honest, I thought there was no way they were going to let the goal be counted," Johnson said. "It’s obvious to us players, we have these meetings with referees and the league before to talk about decisions that are made in a game. We, as players, saw the AR point down [that] the ball went out for a corner kick with his flag first. Then, the player asks the referee is [it] a corner kick and he points down with his left hand, ‘Yes, corner.’ OK, then you see players turning back to walk toward our goal to set up for a corner kick. They grab the ball. None of their players are near the corner flag. They grab the ball, they play short, they serve the ball in, they score a goal. And then I sprint to the assistant referee and asked ‘What was that,’ and silence. There’s no explanation, he talks to the head referee and they talk and discuss it for I don’t know how long they discuss it and then they say, ‘Oh, it’s a goal.’ For us as players, it’s inexcusable.”

NYCFC coach Dome Torrent was so upset he has to twice be restrained by his own players from trying to confront Kelly.

“I said, ‘You made a mistake, and you know that’,” said Torrent. “He decided the game. I said to him ‘You decided the game and you know that. You decided the game. You are not brave, you decided the game.’ What is the reason why? Maybe he made a mistake, and it’s not a corner. I accept that. But when you say corner, two, three seconds and tell my player it’s a corner, it’s a mistake.”

Pool report. Kelly's explanation of what happened, in response to questions of the MLS-mandated pool reporter, painted a slightly different picture ...

Question: Why wasn’t a corner kick given when the AR pointed to the corner flag?
“The referee overruled the AR because the referee was in a better position to judge that the ball went out for a throw-in.”

Question: Did anyone make a “throw-in motion” if AR’s call was overturned?
No “throw-in” motion was made, and would not normally be made.

Question: Was that clearly indicated to NYCFC? Was it reviewed by VAR?
“The referee indicated verbally that the restart was a throw-in. Corner kick vs. throw-in decisions are not review-able by the VAR.”

Photo: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

24 comments about "First Hudson River Derby mired in controversy".
  1. Wallace Wade, July 15, 2019 at 10:35 a.m.

    I’d be upset as well! Really bad officiating. I’m convinced that much of what I see with MLS officiating is due to the fact most never played the game at a high level. I would be curious to know. A team setting up for a corner is a very different thing then turning and defending a throw in!!!

  2. Wooden Ships replied, July 15, 2019 at 10:52 a.m.

    Agreed Wallace. The Center should have whistled instantly when it was obvious there was confusion-spirit and feel for the game was absent. 

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, July 16, 2019 at 12:05 a.m.

    I believe the official, not the players. The player's account is not believable. It is not the official's role to stop play to take away a team's advantage over another from a quick restart.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, July 18, 2019 at 4:05 p.m.

    All this complaining, but the player that scored was marked by 3 opponents all facing the play. The "controversy" is just an excuse for poor play by the 3 markers.

  5. beautiful game, July 15, 2019 at 10:48 a.m.

    Typical MLS officiating. Isn't that the same ref that did such a great job in the Seattle v Toronto MLS Cup final fiasco?

  6. Matt Cardillo, July 15, 2019 at 10:53 a.m.

    Wallace Wade: i think you make a good point. Perhaps MLS officials have never played the game "at a high level." But isn't that criticism true world-wide? And how do we define "high level?" Wonder if there are stats or bio material on refs? For example, and i'm just picking out a name, what's Mike Dean's playing experience. I do not intend on turning this into whether Dean's a good or bad ref. Rather, we know he refs at a high level. I couldn't find his playing experience. I'm sure it's there somewhere.

    What's the definition for "playing at a high level?"  And how many players go from playing at a high level to then reffing?

  7. Victor Mathseon replied, July 15, 2019 at 11:14 a.m.

    Matt Carrillo: Most top referees have played at a decent level (competitive high school or youth, college, or competitive amateur) but almost none at the semi-pro or D1 college level. The pro referees are typically getting in their tons of training in lower level games during their 20s, right when they would be playing if they were pros. 

    Not many players have the desire to become referees when they stop playing and if they wait until the stop playing to become referees, that would make your referee pool both small and much older than we see today.

  8. beautiful game replied, July 15, 2019 at 9:17 p.m.

    Who cares what the level officials played.  if the ref is good praise him; if derelict denounce him. IMHO, most MLS officials are too inconsistent/succumb to league pressure.

  9. Victor Mathseon, July 15, 2019 at 10:59 a.m.

    No, this isn’t a “not having played at a high level“ issue. And quite honestly, you don’t want to
    limit your pool or referees to only those who have played in the pros, for example. Refereeing and playing are significantly different skill sets. 

    This is poor officiating, however. Anytime a crew sends mixed signals to the players and the referee’s signals are so clearly confusing to the players that a goal is scored in the confusion, that is a error. I agree that this is likely not a reviewable error.

    The most common place you see this happen is when an AR and R disagree on a throw. And if one team has already set up on the throw when the direction change is made, most experienced referees will hold the throw to prevent exactly the sort of problem that was seen here.

  10. Wallace Wade, July 15, 2019 at 11:05 a.m.

    A top Amateur League or Academy level in UK as an example. I guess I would be looking for a higher level of experience than playing recreational soccer when they were 10 years old. 

  11. Victor Mathseon replied, July 15, 2019 at 11:23 a.m.

    Every referee whose playing background I knew when I was in the pro referee pool had at least played on their high school team. Definitely some college players and a few players at the highest amateur level. But again, to get the 1000s of games experience you need to make the pros as a referee, you do need to make a choice sometime fairly early about where you are going to dedicate your time. The skills you develop as player don’t necessarily translate into refereeing skill any more than being a good referee turns someone into a good player.

  12. Kent James replied, July 19, 2019 at 4:15 p.m.

    Victor, accurate observations about officials.  I will say that occasionally there are very good refs who never played at a high level (so it's not a requirement for being a good ref, but it obviously helps).  It is also important for top notch referees to be fit, and former players are often more fit than people who have never played (and many refs continue to play).  But there is always tension between playing and refereeing, since it is difficult to do both at the same time (and assignors are not happy if you get injured while playing and they have to take you off scheduled games!).  

  13. Jake Greear, July 15, 2019 at 11:57 a.m.

    I agree with the notion that if there was a change in the call and potential for player confusion, a more clear & obvious clarification should have been made by the refs. That being said, after watching the reply, the service into play could have come just as easily from a quick short corner instead of the throw. The very same play could have unfolded with the immediate defender walking back to goal unaware. I don't see a huge advantage gained either way.

  14. Kent James replied, July 19, 2019 at 4:08 p.m.

    You are correct. It was not like NYFC was unable to defend.  It was a very good header.  Perhaps the player covering the crosser could have closed it down more (but it wasn't like he was rushing and couldn't get there), but for the most part, NYFC was back in position to defend. I get why NYFC is upset, but I don't think it being a throw (rather than a short corner, as you point out) made much of a difference.  

  15. Elizan Morales, July 15, 2019 at 3:10 p.m.

    No 'throw-in motion'...hmm...well...I just can't wait for Paul Gardner to weigh in and write up part II of his recent article:
    https://www.socceramerica.com/publications/article/82955/vars-a-new-elite-group-among-referees-somethin.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headline&utm_campaign=21846&hashid=O_iRf6oL-iJwYFbpckVWEHx6soQ

  16. John Polis, July 15, 2019 at 5:31 p.m.

    I've seen this happen in high school games and I'm surprised to see it in a pro game. Once a call is changed like that, especially with the ball in fairly close proximity to the goal, it's not fair if players are confused by a quick decision change. In my view, if players are confused by the switch, it's an easy fix for the referee to slow things down a tad and not allow a quick throw-in if a large number of players are confused by what happened. Simple game management. 

  17. Wooden Ships replied, July 15, 2019 at 8:25 p.m.

    Yes.

  18. James Madison, July 15, 2019 at 6:17 p.m.

    The episode reminds me of the Barcelona-Liverpool game in which Liverpool scored the deciding goal that put it into the Champions League final while Barcelona was "setting up" for the corner kick involved.  The point is: players should not rely on a corner kick indication as an opportunity for a "rest break."  Those who do may get burned.

  19. beautiful game replied, July 15, 2019 at 9:28 p.m.

    How does the Barca v Liverpool quick corner kick remind you of a similar situation with a throw-in? The former was player instinct, the latter was official being derelict.

  20. Kent James replied, July 19, 2019 at 4:11 p.m.

    In Barca's defense, there was a ball on the field (in the box) that encouraged the Barca players to think they had some time to set up.  But they were truly caught with their pants down... (unlike the situation here, where NYFC seemed in position to defend).

  21. E Muschick, July 15, 2019 at 9:04 p.m.

    Mr. Kelly is the CR who came to the US because -- as he stated in newspaper articles prior to his arrival -- that his chances of making it to FIFA level were better via MLS than staying in Ireland. Peter Walton then chose him to help "educate" and advance the quality level of MLS/PRO referees. Mr. Kelly was a VAR at the just-completed women WC and did one game as part of the VAR crew. I watched all the games: did not see his name again....hmmmmm...to me it is pretty obvious that he did not play soccer at a high level: just watching his running style....
    On the winning NYFC goal: yes, that was a disaster! CR should have blown the whistle twice to stop play while explaining to the players that restart of play is a throw-in, NOT a corner. 
    Bottom line: Not sure, but I think Mr Kelly gets involved with making decisions on referee suspensions....it that is so: perhaps he'll suspend himself for a few games.

  22. beautiful game, July 15, 2019 at 9:19 p.m.

    Incompetent referee, has no instinct for the game.

  23. R2 Dad replied, July 18, 2019 at 1:41 p.m.

    Don't think it's incompetence per se, and miscommunication on a corner vs throw-in is not grounds for all the virtiol. Only mattered because a goal come directly from the mix-up. What I saw was over-reliance on the radios, as well as the belief that players actually pay attention to the referee--they don't unless a call doesn't go their way. Any referee that DIDNT have radios wouldn't have struggled in that moment because the indicating with an overhead throwning motion would be second nature.  For those inclined to believe this one play summarizes MLS refereeing woes, I dissagree. The problems MLS have been having have always revolved around foul selection and LOTG enforcement, not a mix-up on CR/AR communication on a throw-in.

  24. Craig Cummings, July 15, 2019 at 10:03 p.m.

    This referee comes Ireland as a FIFA  referee and the best referee ever to come out of Ireland. He came to the USA in our MLS Referee  holdout time.  I believe he has done  well on most of his games, as many have been seen on FS1. Yes Walton  got him to come over here, but he is still here,under a new boss. Can we say MWC final Referee.

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