By Curtis Reed
*This is the first installment of The Homegrown Player, giving you an unique perspective on soccer in America and the rest of the World. You can follow on Twitter @TheHGPlayer
Much of the talk in MLS recently has been about the quality of refereeing. It seems that there isn’t a week that goes by in which there’s not a controversial red card, penalty, or both. So far the blame has been placed squarely on the referees, many of whom have only a handful of matches under their belts. This certainly has played a part in some of the decisions. Any referee who hands out a red card in half of the matches he has reffed has a problem of some sort, but should all of the blame really be put solely on the men in the middle?
Let’s look at the two matches from last week that featured two red cards apiece. In the Real Salt Lake and New England game, David Gantar issued red cards to Will Johnson and Fernando Cardenas for bad tackles. The red to Johnson was probably deserved while the card to Cardenas was a complete missed call. Still, Cardenas would have never been sent off if Johnson was not sent off. Johnson went in for a tackle against Clyde Simms and left his studs up. It wasn’t malicious, just lazy. Gantar, not wanting to change the match, wisely reached for a yellow before the assistant on the sideline overruled him. The question is, did the New England bench lobby too hard to overturn Gantar’s original decision? It seems to be that way. How else could the assistant be so sure of the call when he stood 40 feet away with Gantar only 10 away?
By sending off Johnson, Gantar was forced to show Cardenas a card for a tackle that looked similarly as bad. (Gantar struggled with the pace of play all match but that is beside the point in this case.) Gantar would have been even more heavily criticized if he let the Cardenas tackle go. Real Salt Lake players yelling at him to show a red didn’t help, but it is a bit ironic that the New England bench lobbying for a red card against Johnson actually cost them their own player. Had they let the center official do his job, they may have been able to take advantage of their man-advantage.
Similarly, does Daniel Hernandez have anyone but himself to blame for being sent off? Hernandez is widely known for his non-stop jawing at officials during matches. He, like Kyle Beckerman and David Beckham, are constantly on the edge with officials. Just look at Beckerman: he is on yellow card warning because half of his cards come from dissent. So had Hernandez not driven Mark Geiger to show an early yellow for dissent, he might have stayed on the pitch.
MLS has made an effort to give opportunities to young officials in the hope that they will develop into world-class refs, but what they have left out is instructing teams to give breathing room to these officials. Lobbying will always be a part of the game, but there comes a point when MLS needs to start protecting their young officials just like they are trying to protect their playmakers.
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