In the last few weeks of complaining about center referees during the New England Revolution games, I've done it from the point of view of trying to understand the call, so that when I actually referee games I can get better.
Because I know I'm a lousy center referee right now. I don't do enough games and it's impossible to learn anything positive from a U10 game. But last week hit close to home. Why? Because I think I'm a solid assistant, and if I get a chance to move up in the USSF ranks I can assure you I will play to my strengths and be on the sidelines holding a flag.
And judging from what everyone saw last week against the Chicago Fire, there are clearly opportunities available to solid ARs. Now the listed AR's for the game according to PRO's website were Greg Barkey and Eric Boria, so we're going to be picking on them today. Because center referee Ismail Elfath actually had a pretty good game I think, and was undone in the end by poor decisions from his assistants. And they started off the game so well, correctly calling back this header from Imbongo for being several yards behind everyone.
How does anyone in the world think that Saer Sene is offside here? Well, I have an idea. Yes, Sene and Dimitry Imbongo both have similar hairstyles, but regardless, how does the AR on the far side (Boria) miss this? My only conclusion is that he anticipated the play, knowing that Imbongo was in an offside position, the assistant assumed the pass was intended for him. But Imbongo gave himself up on the play and never interferes with the defense, so why is the flag going up? I'd love to hear the explanation from Boria of what he saw when the play was happening, just for the sake of understanding what his thought process was. If it was a case of mistaken identity, I'd accept that. It's a grievous error but none the less I'd like some transparency in situations like this from the referees or PRO.
Rowe plays a great through ball to Sene, who's well onsides, even the Chicago color commentator sees this live and on replay. That should have been 3-1 Revolution.
If I can call offsides as a center referee in a U10 game with only one assistant (true story, happened last Sunday, a lot) and do it fairly well from a poor angle, then I expect a profession grade assistant to get a basic offside call correct.
Now at least this play was sneaky good. Because I missed it live and had to find a suitable replay angle on MLS Live to lose my mind. Because for about five minutes in the live thread, all we were screaming about was why did about four Revs players stick their arms in the air and let Mike Magee latch on to a loose ball in the box?
Well, the answer was simple. Juan Luis Anangono interfered with the play from an offside position. The second he steps towards Jose Goncalves and the ball, the flag should go up, because he's now involved in the play and the AR (Barkey) let's play continue as Magee slots home into an empty net. The rules of interfering with a play are quite clear, and Kyle McCarthy tweeted out this 2009 USSF position paper on offsides. It goes into to detail on a 2009 play from a Seattle Sounders-New York Red Bulls game from March 19, 2009 and states the three ways a player can be offside: Gaining an advantage, interfering with play and interfering with an opponent. Anangono clearly interfered with Goncalves and made deliberate contact in shielding him away from the ball.
In the interest of fairness, let's look at the Revs' second goal and the handball shout on Imbongo as he controls Bobby Shuttleworth's free kick. I've seen a few angles of this, but this one is probably the most damning case for a handball. Regardless, I don't think it is. Imbongo plays the ball off his chest and any contact with the arm is slight and the arm is tucked in a natural position. The deflection from the Fire player probably does just enough to force Imbongo to play the ball a little higher on his chest and again, the arm is in a natural position and it doesn't move, so Imbongo doesn't attempt to play the ball with his arm, so I think that's ball to hand. I think everyone needs to move away from the "every time the ball touches arm it's a foul" mentality because that's not the case. How many times do we see defenders in the box have balls kicked into their arms? Plenty. Yes, attackers are usually penalized more often because they usually gain an advantage from the play and their arms are extended. In this case, and so many others, I don't think this is a hand ball.
Now, for those of you who frequent this post, you'll know my opinion of MLSSoccer.com's Simon Borg and his Instant Replay segment and that I've grown disappointed in the entertainment-driven highlight clip of tackles and decisions. But this week, Borg was spot on. Besides offering pretty much the same obvious analysis I just gave, he brings up a tremendous point in the Philadelphia Union-Houston Dynamo match.
Keon Daniels of the Union takes a free kick that eventually finds the top corner of Tally Hall's net, seemingly tying the game. Now Amobi Okugo was ruled offside on the play for interfering with Hall, disallowing the goal, and according to Borg in the video, PRO has already decided that while Okugo was in close proximity to Hall, that he did not specifically interfere with the play. But I don't see anything on PRO's website about this, so where is this information coming from? I can assume that Borg has more contacts and information than I do, but I'm going to say it again. Transparency.
(Transparency, I keep using that word...perhaps I don't know what it means...)
The video also shows two other calls, one from LA Galaxy-Chivas USA and another from Columbus Crew-DC United. Both of those plays were called back as well and in my opinion all three were correct and I'm disappointed that PRO doesn't stick up for its officials on the field in two of these cases (LA's Robbie Keane was I guess judged to be offside for impeding Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy's view), because as a game official if I have even the slightest doubt that a goal might have been scored illegally, I would absolutely wave it off. The DC player yes didn't touch the ball, but he becomes involved in the play to the point that Columbus stopped when they saw the flag go up because the trailing runner was so far behind the play, the only decision there was to enforce the offsides, even if the flag was early.
The offside rule is very complicated and a lot of times it comes down to a judgment call as you can see from the Instant Replay segment. You have to respect the referees if in their opinion they believe a goal was scored unfairly based on an offside play interfering with the play but not touching the ball. The two decisions in New England however, were not judgment calls. They were infractions. And more time should be spent correcting those plays, than correcting opinions.
Especially if the assistants are going to cause a two-goal swing and affect games missing obvious calls.