Here's how I know some incredibly bad call or referee decision has happened during a New England Revolution game: when multiple people start tweeting at me.
And since I was at a wedding in North Carolina, I was left to wonder for the better part of Saturday night just what exactly happened during Lee Nguyen's winner in the 35th minute of the Revs game versus Toronto FC. And well, as far as I'm concerned, this one is bad.
Basically, Chris Tierney is offside throughout the entirety of this play, Jose Goncalves' cross over the top is late and Tierney is about a yard offside when the ball is initially played. But, Dominic Oduro jumps up and heads the ball straight back, still onto the path of an already offside and wide open Tierney. And the AR puts his flag up, only to be waved of by center referee Ricardo Salazar.
First, let me first explain the rule that ends up getting applied here. For starters, we'll go to PRO's Play of the Week from Week 19 of 2013 (July 10) in a game between DC United and the Seattle Sounders. To directly quote the rule from the article, "A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is not considered to have gained an advantage." And the video below, also from the above linked PRO article, will illustrate what is a clear, "deliberate" pass.
When the rule says "deliberate" this is really what they are referring too. Deliberate does not literally mean what you think it means when it comes to applying it to the rule stated above. Oduro, in my opinion, does not deliberately play this ball to anyone. It is an attempted block, and therefore the ball should be treated as if it were deflected. By rule, since Tierney was offside on the initial ball and was still in an offside position, Salazar should have honored his AR's flag and the offside call should have stood.
In the DC-Seattle game in the YouTube clip, the rule is also in correctly applied as Martins, initially offside on the kick from his keeper, received a deliberate ball from a defender. Thankfully, that call did not decide the game as Martin's header was cleared away. But in this play, there is a clear intent from the DC defender playing the ball back to his keeper and therefore a deliberate ball from an opponent, meaning Martins was free to play the ball regardless of his previous offside position.
However on Saturday, this was not the case. You can not convince me under any circumstances that Oduro's header was a type of pass or a deliberate attempt to play the ball. What Oduro tried to do was block the pass from Goncalves and prevent it from reaching Tierney and as far as I'm concerned, Tierney was offside on the initial ball which was deflected to him and he should have been flagged. And as I say often, reading soccer rules as they are written will get you in trouble, because there are nuances to applying many rules on the field.
Now, despite the fact that I disagree with the call, the referee crew actually handles this moment of confusion really well. After he was overruled, the AR (either Matt Nelson or Brian Dunn) did well here to put his flag down and continue the play and reestablish his position down the sideline. Salazar to his credit is actually holding up the advantage sign all the way through Lee's goal, which means to everyone on the field that the play is continuing. There's a reason why we tell kids to play to the whistle and Toronto FC forgot that as they stood their with the arms up and essentially let Lee Nguyen walk in for the score. Heck, even Nguyen seemed to look around for the flag before slotting home, adding to the confusion of this play. I wouldn't be surprised if PRO used this as their "Play of the Week" for Week 34 of the 2014 MLS season because there's a lot of good from the refereeing crew in this play. Assuming like me that you think the original call is bad, otherwise there's just a lot of good.
Now we come to the million dollar question: why did Salazar overrule his assistant on this play? There is only one logical reason, and that is the fact that Mark Bloom (#28) is tracking behind Tierney and it's almost certainly the case that Salazar interpreted Oduro's header as a deliberate pass to Bloom that was intercepted by Tierney. In my opinion the ball continuing straight back rather than going towards the middle of the field is the key to this play as far as my determining whether Odruo's header should be considered a pass or a deflection. Had Oduro headed the ball more towards the center of the field and Tierney had run onto it, then there would be more of an argument for a "deliberate" pass. But can I say that Ricardo Salazar is entirely wrong in this case, no, because his interpretation of the play is based on an opinion, bringing to light another strange, gray-area to the already confusing offside rule.
Especially when I disagree with a call, I do my best to explain why the call was made, because in the end my opinion does not mean anything. One of the best and worst things about the human element is that two people can look at the same thing and say two different things. You can not convince me from the sideline angle that I watched, that Oduro is trying to pass the ball to Bloom or doing anything else than try and block Goncalves' pass. But I am not on the field with the unique angle of Salazar on the field as the center referee.
The only person whose opinion matters in this case is Ricardo Salazar's, and he signaled play on.
Toronto stopped playing, the Revolution did not.