Persistent Infringement: Are MLS Referees Allowed to Caution for it?

I’ve been away too long, or so I was told.

After trying to help – in my own small way – settle a labor dispute and get PSRA’s dedicated and hard-working officials back on the pitch (some will argue my big mouth helped the cause; others might suggest I nearly killed it), I spent the last two weeks dodging Southern California earthquakes after totaling my over-priced European luxury sedan (you might be surprised how easy it is to total one… I mean how quickly the damage adds up, not how simple it is to rear-end a utility truck).

In fairness, I was reaching for a pen to write down a great idea for my next blog… which wasn’t all that great.

Thank goodness this weekend wasn’t a total loss. Nine games on the docket for MLS Week 4, or as I prefer to call it, MLS Week 2*.

So the editor said I can pick my battles – I mean moments – with MLS matches, so with great anticipation, I set the TiVo (yes, the TiVo) for today’s epic battle between a Sports Drink Goliath (NY Red Bulls) and an ownerless ward of a David (the team soon the be formerly known as CD Chivas USA).

After all the red cards, DOGSO decisions, penalties, rolling ball restarts, and game-winning goals in stoppage time in eight MLS games played Saturday, I was ready for just about anything today… even Hristo Stoichkov.

Spoiler Alert: I am really glad that I didn’t have to pay to view this game. And I am equally glad that I was not scheduled to be the PRO match inspector, or coach/mentor, or designated rubber stamp for this game. Because, as many assessors told me during my career, “this one wasn’t a good one.”

Juan Guzman is an experienced MLS Referee who rightfully wears a FIFA Badge – the man has absolutely earned his stripes – but today was not his shining moment. I didn’t expect poetry on the pitch, but from the onset, this game quickly dissolved into a mess of Red Bull lunges, missteps (often times on the feet of Chivas’ players) and aerial challenges with “messages.” The nonsense started in the 8th minute when Erick Torres (say what you will about his inability to stay on his feet, but he has bagged four goals in as many games for a subpar club, so there you go) took an elbow or forearm – I am giving the officials the benefit of the doubt – to the face while contesting for a ball played on the ground following a throw-in.

No foul. Seat belts on. Stage set.

Stepping on the feet of an opponent is not easy for referees to catch… been there, failed to recognize that. But it happened far too often in this game, and at one point, I asked myself who put the Bulls up to this – easygoing Mike Petke or everyone’s friend Robin Fraser? Roy Miller was spoken to by Mr. Guzman in the 19th minute for such a stomp, but it kept occurring, and I am thinking that steel-toed cleats (aluminum-toed?) can’t be too far away.

How many of you have “tightened it up” or “found a good caution” to reassert your authority?

Well, the caution that everyone saw coming (even the alleged 15,225 in attendance) arrived in the 21st minute… unfortunately, it was also Chivas USA’s only real offensive threat of the first half as they ran out of their own half with a numerical advantage. Take a look at the clip CAREFULLY. We all see the foul committed by Armando. We sense his desperation in committing the foul. Why the rush to blow the whistle? (For those wondering how many NYRB defenders are not in the frame… the answer is the goalkeeper.) (VIDEO OF THE INCIDENT)

To his credit, Mr. Guzman showed great courage and decisiveness in awarding a penalty to Chivas USA in the 24thminute, a decision applauded by former Cosmopolitan (now Red Bulls broadcaster) Shepp Messing

See and hear for yourself (VIDEO OF THE INCIDENT).

Now, I don’t believe in “make up calls,” and I don’t think the penalty decision was “made up.” What I was thinking at the time was how Chivas USA could easily be up 2-0 right now… and for full disclosure: for 10 years, I have lived in Los Angeles and have never liked, followed or supported this team, as to me, they are the Chicago White Sox of MLS and as much as I try, I can’t get the Cubbie Blue out of my blood.

The game limped to halftime, but not before Jamison Olave stepped once more on Mr. Torres for good measure in minute 42, followed by a forearm into the back of his head on an aerial challenge at 45 + 2. The latter resulted in a “talking to” and I found find myself thinking “does Olave walk on water, or have the MLS referees been told to flat-out stop cautioning for Persistent Infringement?”

I realize that Chivas USA gets no respect – from me or the next guy – but why this Rodney Dangerfield treatment? True, at some point this summer, they will likely be outdrawn by LA Galaxy II (the USL farm team), but even if Erick Torres is too small (at 5’11 and 176 pounds), overly dramatic (rolling all over the pitch when he feels contact) or too weak to absorb forearms to the head/neck, you have to give this team credit for displaying more energy than Team Energy Drink over the first 45… and the officials needed to hold their opponents fully accountable for foul play.

Of course, the second half was entirely predictable: in addition to Mr. Olave stepping where he shouldn’t (bruising more goat feet in the process), Thierry Henry had to get into the act as well. After sliding through Mr. Torres in the 55th minute (simple foul… perhaps a “DP Rule” I don’t know about?), he tried it again on Carlos Alvarez in the 80th minute… and guess what? Another simple foul.

Again to his credit, Mr. Guzman wiped out the apparent Red Bull equalizer in the 66th minute after sure-handed Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy collected a ball and was immediately wiped out.

It always helps when you get the obvious stuff correct.

Anyway, we all knew how the game would eventually end: Mr. Kennedy would make a bunch of saves that he had no business making (can someone please guarantee this man a job next year, regardless of what happens to the LA Pelicans… or whatever this team becomes?), and in so doing, he kept Chivas USA in the match all the way to the final whistle (VIDEO OF THE INCIDENT).

And, of course, we knew the Red Bulls would eventually score in stoppage time since stoppage goals are the flavor of the week in MLS (it was a clean goal, thank goodness). In so doing, the Bulls salvaged a tie that was likely deserved – they threw everything at Chivas in the second half except the kitchen sink. Chivas limped off with a point and a lot of bruised feet and sore necks (VIDEO OF THE INCIDENT).

To borrow a phrase from a wise man named Kleinaitis: Players win the game. Coaches lose the game. Referees spoil the game. For me, this game was spoiled, and as the assessor would say, “this one wasn’t a good one.”

Mr. Guzman, why weren’t Jamison Olave and Thierry Henry put in the book?

If you watched the match, I welcome your comments about my comments. But before you chime in, please hand me an ice pack for the top of my foot.

Categories: MLS

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