The New England Revolution went into Sunday night's home match-up with the Montreal Impact in possession of fifth place in the East, with a perfect opportunity to solidify their grip on that playoff spot after Houston and Chicago suffered poor results on the weekend. Instead, they laid an egg and dropped a 4-2 result in a match that was once again affected by officiating. New England played with ten men from the fifth minute onward after Matt Reis was dismissed for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Montreal did the early damage on a pair of penalties. The first was off of the Reis foul, after Marco di Vaio found himself in on goal via a simple ball over the top. He attempted to volley out of the air as Reis came out and challenged, but whiffed. Ironically, this wrong-footed Reis and took the ball past the keeper, who then fell and tripped di Vaio for a clear penalty and red card.
There was some debate as to whether or not di Vaio was already going down, or the ball was going out of bounds anyway, but it appeared to be the right call by referee Sorin Stoica. Many felt that the red card was harsh, however. Patrice Bernier buried the penalty past substitute Bobby Shuttleworth.
"At that point I made a play for the ball," said Reis after the game, speaking about the moment when di Vaio missed his initial shot attempt. "I touched him, but I didn't touch him very hard. He went down, and looking at the replay, it looks like he kicks it out of bounds. For me, if [the referee] wants to give the penalty, fine, but I completely disagree with the red card."
The Revs, to their credit, took the initiative after going down a man, and were rewarded in the 26th minute. Scott Caldwell gave the ball to Diego Fagundez in the midfield, and the budding superstar took off into space, taking advantage of an excellent diagonal run from Dimitry Imbongo before trying to send the ball to his striker. Jeb Brovsky beat Imbongo to the ball, but his clearance turned out to be an inch-perfect low cross directly to Fagundez's shoes, and Diego didn't waste the opportunity, burying into an essentially-empty net to equalize.
New England appeared poised to surprise the Impact despite their numbers disadvantage, but the referee took center stage again. In the 30th minute, Jose Goncalves took down Felipe in the box and Stoica immediately pointed to the spot. On replay, there was definitely contact, but Felipe seemed to be looking for it and went down easy. Most frustrating to Revolution fans would have been the fact that such fouls are - right or wrong - hardly ever called for penalties in MLS. Bernier buried it again, though Shuttleworth was just a hair away from getting a hand to it.
"You can see that Felipe was flying everywhere in the field when someone touched him," said Goncalves, who was clearly not impressed with either Felipe Martins or the official. "The referee should be aware of that and I think he didn't consider [it] as a trait for the game. He gave the penalty straight away the second time, and I was surprised."
Then, in first-half stoppage time, Marco di Vaio happened. Hassoun Camara dinked a simple ball over the top - similar to the ball that sprung him on the penalty play - and di Vaio was in with A.J. Soares on him. The wily striker took the central defender to school, tearing him up with a simple cutback before snapping a shot in on the near post past Shuttleworth low.
"It's a great goal," said Heaps. "It hurt us. We fought hard, but we needed a little bit of luck to go our way. It just wasn't going to happen tonight."
The Revs started strong in the second half, generating a pair of close opportunities for Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe in the 49th and 53rd minutes. Then Soares was again left sprawling in the turf by di Vaio in the 56th minute as the Italian doubled his tally. It was another Camara ball over the top, and another simple cutback, though this time he took an extra touch and finished to the far post past Shuttleworth.
The conclusion was beyond doubt at that point, but the Revs still found a way to lighten the sting just a little bit. In the 76th minute, Kelyn Rowe dribbled the ball and drifted left from midfield as he attacked the goal before cutting back to his right. He got to the D, facing diagonally toward the touchline and away from goal, but still somehow managed to curl his foot around the ball and chip/bend a delicate but lethal shot into the top right corner of the goal for another Goal of the Week candidate.
"We're not going to quit," said Jay Heaps when asked about how his team responded to the early disaster. "When we practice these situations, we don't practice them for 90 minutes worth of being down a man. We actually practice stuff where it's, you know, you get a red card, give up a goal, and you have 30 minutes to get back into the game. And that's what we did in the first half."
People can debate endlessly about the veracity of the penalty calls, but there was a definite theme of inconsistency - that word again - that permeated the contest. Revolution players and coaches were clearly unhappy with the officiating, and as Heaps indicated above, the communication was a big issue. When asked whether or not Stoica explained the call to him after his red card, Matt Reis said simply "No."
The Revolution, for now, retain fifth place in the East, but that could change after Chicago's midweek match with Toronto. New England is back in action on Saturday against that same Fire club in what will be the very definition of a playoff six-pointer.
In the meantime, here are some other quotes to illustrate how the team felt about the officials after the match. The energy and demeanor from players and coaches in the locker room after the game were an even clearer reflection of the frustration and disbelief, but these bytes should suffice as well:
"I had no interaction with the referee at all. I felt that there was no explanation and it was disappointing ... that's what I think was the most disappointing, just the overall demeanor toward us. That's what I feel upsets us the most."
"For us, if you look at all the fouls and what we got called on us and didn't get called against us, yeah, I'd like to think [Stoica didn't manage the game well]. I'd like to think so. Obviously in my situation I completely agree that he didn't manage the game very well, but that's up for the PRO to look at and decide how well he did."
"[The red card changed the dynamic of the game] a lot. A lot, a lot. I think for me it was a bad decision from the ref. I don't see why he should give the red card. I think Matt went for the ball and even if Matt touched slightly di Vaio, di Vaio played well, but the ball was not going in toward the goal, it was going outside. It's a smart play for him, but it's a hard red card definitely."
"I think it's not because of the penalty but it's because of, uh, he started the game, I think the referee must calm down the game. This is not what he did. The first chance he had, he gave the penalty and a red card, that's a hard one. After Felipe was diving on the field, he must punish that, he must give a yellow card, and that's something where everyone can see it and everyone got frustrated, so, from that point on I think that everyone was very frustrated and it was difficult to concentrate on the game."
"I just told [Felipe at halftime] he must stay on his feet. Let's play the game, and not dance around the ball. That's it."
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