Referee’s whistle sparks rare controversy in MLS game.

The New York Red Bulls recorded their first comeback from a two-goal deficit this season when, after an exciting game, they beat the Portland Timbers 3:2 at Red Bull Arena on August 19, 2012. This was also the game in which Tim Cahill, Red Bulls recent signing from Everton, scored his first goal in MLS. Cahill’s goal, however, was controversial because it looked like it was scored after Referee Jasen Anno blew his whistle, indicating a foul inside Portland’s penalty area. As the video below demonstrates, it appears that Referee blew his whistle immediately after the ball bounced off the Portland Timber’s defender. Mr. Anno’s whistle was not only immediate (premature?!) but also very loud as it can be clearly heard on the video.

Indeed, players and officials from both teams commented after the game that they heard the whistle. For example, Red Bulls midfielder Jan Gunnar Soli was reported as saying that “I heard the whistle. I thought it was offside or something. I heard it. I looked at the referee and he was waiving his hands that it was in.” In addition, Portland Timbers coach stated that “you can see the replay very clearly, that he’s blowing the whistle well before the ball has gone into the back of the net. Unless I had a different view to everyone else, the staff and the players, the whistle was blowing. The whistle was blowing before the ball went into the back of the net and then the decision was changed.”

The New York Times reported, however, that “after the match, a pool reporter was able to obtain comments from Referee Jasen Anno, who said he did not blow the whistle and had in fact played the advantage rule after the Portland defender apparently handled the ball before it bounced back to Cahill.” While it is true that under Law 5, “the referee may play advantage whenever an infringement or offence occurs,” we did not see Mr. Anno signal for “advantage” which he should have done clearly and unambiguously so that no one was confused about whether the advantage was applied or not. (see the picture to the right for proper advantage signal). Indeed, according to the USSF’s Advice to the Referees on the Laws of the Game “giving the advantage is ‘calling the foul’ and thus it must be as obvious to the players as signaling to stop play. Inconspicuous advantage signals are as much to be avoided as a whistle which cannot be heard.” If Mr. Ano did, in fact, apply advantage then, in accordance with the USSF’s Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials, he should have shouted “’play on!’ or ‘advantage!’ and move his both hands forward in a sweeping motion at waist level” (see the picture to the right for “advantage” signal authorized by IFAB/FIFA).

We will also point out to another factor that puts Mr. Ano’s explanation that he applied advantage in doubt. Perhaps less known to the general public, but well known to referees, is the fact that in accordance with the Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game, “the whistle is NOT needed to stop play for … a goal.” Indeed, it is a well established practice among referees in the United States not to whistle after a goal is scored.

Either Mr. Ano did not apply the advantage rule or, if he did, he failed to properly signal for it causing controversy. Whichever version of events you believe, the simple truth is that Mr. Anno screwed up.

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