I actually didn't see any of this live. I was having a nice dinner with my family, sneaking in looks at my phone which I was repeatedly chastised for by my grandmother. I had expected to see the score stay at New York Red Bulls 1, New England Revolution 0. I held out hope for a tie, a late equalizer to perhaps keep the Revs playoffs hope alive.
Then all hell broke loose.
For the second time this year, Fotis Bazakos lost complete control of a game in the closing stages, the first coming against Toronto about a month ago. That launched the astounding success and critically acclaimed (on Twitter anyway, in New England) 3rd Yellow column that has sadly become an almost weekly breakdown of bad refereeing in MLS, in Revolution games anyway.
Since I'm going to spend so much time on negative moments from this game let's start off with some positives. There was a lot of great soccer in the closing stages despite all the controversy. Okay, maybe not the play that led to the Revs goal notwithstanding, but Luis Robles and Matt Reis traded excellent saves and there was some good up and down soccer as both teams searched for an equalizer. Plus, I think for the first time I actually didn't hate MSG's Shep Messing who I am sadly forced to watch since I live in that corner of Connecticut that wears the Yankee hats.
Before I get started on the final 10 minutes plus stoppage of the New York-New England game last weekend, I will try and be very clear on what my opinion and what the rules are and I say this because I'm going to bring up something to start off that I don't think has been mentioned yet by anyone. And if you think Fotis Bazakos is crazy, well, just keep reading. You're all going to think I'm nuts. I assure you I am very sane, just interpreting the rules.
83RD MINUTE - JAMISON OLAVE'S HANDBALL
For the record, the ball hit Jamison Olave in the shoulder area and his arm is fairly tucked in to the point that I don't believe it's an infraction. But there is gray area here as to where the arm ends and shoulder begins, and the replay is far from conclusive one way or the other.
But I get to see that replays from several different angles. Bazakos has only one, and what he sees is Olave dropping his shoulder into the ball that Saer Sene just shot. And with the ball coming off Olave at an odd angle with pace, it appears unlikely that it hit him in the upper chest because the ball would have dropped downwards and have been deadened by the impact. Instead, the ball comes up off Olave shoulder, which he was moving up in the direction of the ball. So Bazakos interprets this as an infraction and maybe points to the spot, it's hard to tell if he's indicating a penalty with his left arm/hand and there's some confusion.
Here's the kicker on this play. This is not a "ball-to-hand" situation, Olave just blatantly blocked a potential shot/cross with his shoulder/arm and a penalty has been given. Regardless of whether or not the general public feels about this call, and I don't think it's a handball either, but Fotis Bazakos should've shown a straight red to Olave for a deliberate handball on a goal scoring opportunity.
Even when Bazakos gets the call wrong, he gets the call wrong. He judged Olave to commit a handball on a potentially goal bound ball, awarded the penalty and for whatever reason determined that Olave didn't deliberately play the ball with his arm. Olave drops his shoulder down intentionally to play that ball, and you just whistled him for an handball, there's no way in my mind you can't say Olave didn't deliberately try to block that ball. And since Bazakos thinks it's a handball, he actually needs to throw the game into even more immediate chaos by sending off Olave as per the Laws of the Game. Think about how that would've affected the outcome of the game and Nguyen's penalty is still pending.
I'm going to go back to Dimitry Imbongo's chest down in the Fire game a few weeks back, where everyone thought he committed a handball while trapping the ball off his chest. The difference on that play is there was a deflection, which changed the direction of the ball. Olave sees he's not in position and either can't move his feet to a better position or just chooses to drop the shoulder into Sene's shot/cross. And while the ball likely hits him right on the top of the shoulder, it's very deceptive live and Bazakos decides to whistle for a penalty and once he did that, Olave should have been dismissed.
As if this game needed anymore chaos after that call, which was horrendous on all points. It gets worse.
86TH MINUTE - ANDY DORMAN'S RED CARD
When I saw this live, I thought it was harsh, but on replay this was a justified call. It's a 50/50 challenge, and Andy Dorman leads in with the studs, which isn't bad initially, until he digs his foot into the ground going after the ball. That is endangering the safety of an opponent and a justified red card from Bazakos, who isn't exactly a red card happy referee. Going into the New York game, Bazakos in 22 MLS games has issued 3.3 yellows/game, only 2 reds and only 6 penalties. I wrote an entire entry on players from the Revs game against Toronto FC that should've seen red and yet that game finished with 11 players on each side.
The problem with this challenge is that it is routinely only given as a foul in MLS with an occasional yellow and I doubt the MLS DC has gone back to every one and issued suspensions. But this isn't the time for me to harp on the MLS DC, but I reserve the right to do so later. Perhaps even this week.
There's another problem to address here with Dorman, is that this is his second red in incredibly limited minutes for the Revs this season. The first, another justified red for a high challenge against Sporting Kansas City's Kei Kamara which left the SKC midfielder with a knock that kept him out a few games. This has not been the return to MLS and the Revs that Dorman hoped for and this is about as bad as Imbongo's run of reds earlier in the year. For a player to receive two reds in 10 appearances (1 start) in just 220 total minutes is horrendous, and as I said with Imbongo weeks ago, it makes Dorman a liability on the field. Sadly, the Revs are incredibly short on holding midfield options at the moment especially next week with Dorman out on suspension.
93RD MINUTE - HENRY PUSHES FARRELL
Okay, so the best replay of this is going to be Simon Borg's Instant Replay segment and the Revs-Red Bulls game is covered during the middle of the clip.
As a cross is played in, Thierry Henry gives a fairly blatent two-handed push that takes out three Revs players, including the onrushing keeper Matt Reis who ends up giving Andrew Farrell the business end of his knee. There's no foul called, and in this case, I'd expect the assistant on the near side to make this call, and while he's in good position to make the call, he's possibly screened by Revs centerback Jose Goncalves and it puts the Revs in a terrible spot.
Their keeper and two other players are down, Reis, Farrell and midfielder Kelyn Rowe is also disrupted by the contact. Luckily for the Revs, New York's Andre Akpan skies the shot over the open net as there's no call on the play and there were reports that Bazakos initially thought that Farrell was feigning injury, which would be difficult with blood pouring out of his nose, but more on that later.
And unlike Simon Borg, I am calling for a suspension for Thierry Henry. For the rest of the regular season, that would be for New York's final two games. It's an intentional act that endangered the safety of his opponent. Period.
I'll wait for the MLS Disciplinary Committee report to come out before I comment any further on this specific play, but these are the types of fouls that the MLS DC should be targeting to eliminate them from the league. Unnecessary, deliberate and endangering the safety of your opponent, or in this case opponents. But as we've seen time and time again this year, the MLS DC's decisions are few and far between and at times odd. I understand that they've been cleaning up a lot of bad refereeing decisions, but in my opinion they're not doing enough to deter these types of fouls from happening.
95TH MINUTE - ROBLES TAKES OUT IMBONGO
There's no video of this, so here's the brief play by play: Imbongo has just earned a foul near midfield and the ensuing free kick by Nguyen is chipped to Imbongo. He fights off contact/a foul from Red Bulls defender Markus Holgersson and I assume the advantage is played. Imbongo goes down the touch line and Robles comes off his line. Imbongo rounds Robles and is then taken out by the Red Bulls keeper clear as day with
And not only is there no advantage (which could be played until Sene's follow up is blocked, but then the PK has to be awarded), but Bazakos actually tells Imbongo to get up, inferring that he embellished contact from Robles. There's zero chance that Robles won the ball and while I'm not going to ask for a red to Robles (which could have been issued but a yellow would've sufficed for me, regular bad challenge), that is an absolute stone cold penalty.
And Bazakos is in perfect position for that, and even if there's no contact there, the fact that Robles' challenge forced Imbongo airborne is enough to call a foul there since he doesn't win the ball. And since the ball is in the box, that's a penalty.
I fear that this is Imbongo's perceived reputation striking again, despite the fact that in the past several weeks it's very clear that he's getting mauled nearly every time he gets the ball. Perhaps Bazakos was gun shy about giving another PK, but that one is blatant and having already covered goalkeepers and red cards earlier with Matt Reis against Montreal, the point here is to get calls with goalkeepers consistently called.
Consistency...I keep using that word...perhaps I don't know what it means...
97TH MINUTE - TIM CAHILL EQUALIZES AGAINST 9-MAN REVS
First, let's set the scene. There's supposed to be four minutes of stoppage time, and in theory Farrell was down for two minutes, so when Kelyn Rowe commits a handball at about 95:30, there's still about 30 second left to play, so there isn't any issue with the game going this late.
The second thing to notice on this play, is the yellow card to Diego Fagundez for time wasting after booting the ball up field after the whistle. It's not on Rowe for the actual hand ball, which was legitimate as he jumped into the ball despite trying to turn away from it. That yellow card is unnecessary in that spot in my opinion, but it does fall under the letter of the law so I'm not going to go crazy.
The third thing, Andrew Farrell was waved back on sometime after the Robles-Imbongo play, so he's been on the field for about a minute after being on the sidelines for about two minutes receiving treatment for a bloody nose.
I'm going to take a very brief moment here and explain how re-entry for an injured player works, particularly after and type of a bleeding injury. After treatment is completed, the player does to midfield and asks for re-entry, which can only be granted by the referee. It is likely that the 4th official in this case looked at the injury and determined that it was okay for Farrell to re-enter the game and informed the referee via his earpiece but I am making an educated assumption here. In most youth games, since there are unlimited substitutes, the player is subbed out and receives treatment and then is checked the next time he wants to re-enter as a substitute.
Somehow in those next few minutes, Farrell started bleeding again or more likely wiped blood on his jersey and was asked to leave the field of play right before the ensuing free kick.
This left the Revolution with only 9 players to mark 11 Red Bulls with Robles coming up into the box. The Revs countered by leaving the posts unmarked and when Reis was only able to punch the free kick as far as Tim Cahill, the Red Bulls midfielder was able to loop a header over everyone into an open net. And yes, the two Red Bulls players hanging out near the goal line are but they are in no way affecting the play, so that's a good goal.
Now, even with Farrell on the field this could've happened anyway, but the fact that the Red Bulls' Olave had to bring this to the attention the referee is disturbing for two reasons. One, the referee's already cleared Farrell to return and should be monitoring his status anyway. And two, it screams of gamesmanship, even if Bazakos is well within his right to send a bleeding player off the field for more treatment or a change of jersey. And I don't like players telling me how to do my job.
The final score was 2-2. The final grade for Mr. Fotis Bazakos should be somewhere in the threes...which doesn't exist in referee assessment scores, it ends somewhere with six, which stands for basically much improvement needed in all areas. Which is beyond where Bazakos stands right now.
The problem with this game isn't the calls, because some of them are actually correct. But for the second straight game refereeing the Revolution, Bazakos decisions and indecision threw the game into chaos and how MLS and PRO continue to allow this to happen is beyond me.
I hope that this is the last writing I ever have to do on Fotis Bazakos in MLS. Because he's proven in about a month that he can't handle MLS level soccer, particularly late in games. MLS PRO can't keep putting out the same referees and having these issues pop up every time. Go deeper into the well of the USSF referee pool and try and find other referees. If you discover similar issues then that's fine, but the concept of PRO right now is just not working if the referees aren't getting better.
And I'm still going to be writing until they figure it out. And I don't mind breaking down bad refereeing, I'm learning a lot. It won't help me become a better center referee but my game management skills should be through the roof next spring. 2013
But I can't stand giving MSG soccer and Shep Messing credit for good announcing. I have to draw the line there.