At last! It's been long coming and, quite frankly, we thought we would never seen it. But, it finally arrived.
No, we are not really talking about the start of the new MLS season this weekend. Although, obviously, we are thrilled that the season started on time and without work stoppage which, as it was reported, was quite still probable just a couple of days before the kickoff.
What we are talking about here is Mr. Alan Kelly's performance during a historic game between two new MLS expansion teams Orlando City SC and NY City FC in front of 62,000 fans at Orlando Citrus Bowl stadium in Orlando, Florida.
The game itself lacked rhythm and was, for long stretches of time, slow and unattractive. This was not unexpected given that many of the players on the field for both teams did not play with each other in a competitive game before. It takes more than just few training sessions and friendly games for the players to gain understanding and play as a team.
However, despite this rather lackluster showing by the players of both teams, we were rather quite entertained and saw a great spectacle, featuring Mr. Kelly.
In fact, we did not have to wait for a long time for things to heat up. First, it was Orlando's Brek Shea who was cautioned by Mr. Kelly for diving in the 29th minute of the game. Then, it was Orlando's Kevin Molino's turn to be cautioned for - yes, you guessed it - another dive. And just when you thought that perhaps Orlando players would learn their lesson and stopped diving, another Orlando player, Cristian Higuita, attempted to fool Mr. Kelly with yet another dive. Unfortunately for Orlando players, and Higuita in particular, Mr. Kelly was in no mood and quickly cautioned him for diving. THREE DIVES AND THREE CAUTIONS!
Ahh, it was so refreshing to finally see a referee with courage and actually doing his job.
After all, as we wrote many times before, the Laws of the Game are very clear that any player who "attempts to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled" must be cautioned. Congratulations to Mr. Kelly! Job well done! We only hope that his performance will inspire others to do the same so that we may begin to rid the beautiful game of the scourge that is diving. To borrow a famous quote from Neil Armstrong, Mr. Kelly took one small step for the league, one giant leap for...
OK, OK, so maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit here. Just want to make sure you get the point. (Inexplicably, as of this writing, MLS did not make the video of the three dives available on its website.)
Now, Mr. Kelly was not quite done yet. In the 83rd minute of the game, he was again called on to make a difficult decision after Orlando's Aurelien Collin clobbered NY City's designated player David Villa a few short yards away from the penalty area. There was no doubt that Collin's foul demanded his dismissal and Mr. Kelly promptly obliged and had shown him a red card.
While Collin feigned surprise at receiving a red card, his foul committed with an outstretch leg, and studs showing, which struck Villa's shin, justified - nay, demanded - that he be thrown out of the game for committing a foul while using excessive force and endangering an opponent. Honestly, we think that Villa should feel lucky for not getting his leg broken or sustaining serious injury.
Now, all of these cards came against the home team, Orlando City SC. To say that that the crowd of 62,000+ did not appreciate Mr. Kelly's decisions would be a huge understatement. Similarly, the fact that Mr. Kelly faced significant pressures during the game cannot go unnoticed. For this reason, we believe that Mr. Kelly's performance deserves especial praise.
Oh, and we almost forgot, the game ended in a draw 1:1 after NY City's Mix Diskerud scored in the 76th minute and Kaka's shot was deflected and the ball was luckily redirected into NY City's goal in extra time.
But, really, who was paying attention to the scoreline. It was Mr. Kelly's performance that deserved all the highlights.