The Third Opponent: The Referee


That is all I can truly say. I just finished watching a very intense, very physical and high profile match: Sporting KC versus Real Salt Lake. And it was as intense as it was projected to be, if not moreso, because of the head referee’s lack of consistency throughout the match and his habit of missing calls. But we’ll get to that in a moment. Unfortunately, I only got to stream the second half of the match because I was at work, but the second half definitely told me a lot about the match. If you asked me to pick one color that described the match, I would say, without wasting a breath: yellow.

I mean, holy cow. There were eight total yellow cards, three of them being assessed in the first half, all against Real. I haven’t seen that many yellows in quite some time and I bet some would argue that the ref did not call enough. But the most prominent call of the match, hands down, was the second yellow (which automatically results in a red card, for those non-soccer-savvy readers) called on Chris Wingert for Real. Not only did Real have to play 20 minutes one man short, but this resulted in a free kick that ultimately gave Sporting their first goal of the match, after much battling in the box and a very well-placed shot by Soony Saad. Wingert got called for pulling a Sporting player back after Sporting got the advantage and was about to go on a run, in an attempt to keep Sporting from scoring.

And look how that worked out for him.

No, but really, Wingert was unlucky. While I agree that the call was correct — you can’t just pull a player back because they bested you and created themselves space to start a run — the referee was one of the most inconsistent I’ve seen, especially towards the end of the match and (definitely) into stoppage time. He let a lot of tackles go that were from behind, let clips slip uncalled and didn’t even bother to look to see if a player went after ball or man in a challenge. The worst miss, however, is when the referee went to confront two players in the box for arguing and Sporting’s man Ike Opara went up and blatantly shoved the Real player, in front of the ref, mind you, and guess what?

No call.

This happened in the 95th minute. 5 minutes of stoppage time had been called and the ball had just been booted out of play. Everyone assumed that the match was going to be a 1-1 draw (Robbie Findley scored for Real in the 56′ after Sporting Keeper Jimmy Nielsen tipped a blocked shot up and into the head of Findley, who capitalized on a great opportunity) but the referee did not call time and gave Sporting two more set pieces, in the form of a throw in and a corner, that resulted in a Sporting goal in the top of the 96′ by non other than Opara.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy that Sporting came out with the victory and three points, especially over a squad like Real. We needed that win. But I hate that because of the referee’s poor performance, that victory will be chalked up to nothing but interference by the unwanted third opponent: the referee, who many will claim was sporting for KC. They won’t acknowledge the utterly brilliant save by Nielsen very late in stoppage time that saved Sporting from losing the match. They won’t acknowledge the fact that Sporting kept possession for almost 60% of the match and how they did a great job of staying wide and keeping spread out on the pitch; making it difficult for the Real defense to pinch in and regain possession, especially with the clock ticking away. (Although, to be fair, Sporting also had some pretty poor passing and lost a lot of opportunities by misjudging through balls or misjudging the distance of their teammates. Or just doing stupid passes or giveaways to Real. Something I think they need to work on next match, for sure.) And Real also played a good, competitive match with a great goal and some critical saves by their young keeper, Jeff Attinella, late in the match.

Instead of recognizing this match-up as the intense, physical, well played match (overall) that is was, spectators are just going to chalk it up to a lucky victory that was unfair because both teams were forced to play against the referee as well, until it got to the point that, as the announcers like to put it, the referee had “lost total control of the match.” And maybe that’s true, I dunno. What I do think, though, is that it is sad how much one referee’s poor job can overshadow the great play of two quality teams and erase almost 100 minutes of strong, competitive play.

Regardless, excited for Sporting’s next match versus Montreal, next Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Hope it is as intense as this one was!



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