There's so much to get too this week, we might as well start with the most talked about red card of the weekend, that of the Columbus Crew's Ethan Finlay.
In the 60th minute of their second leg Eastern Conference semifinal vs. The New England Revolution, Finlay is attempting to get on the end of a through ball that is smothered by Revs keeper Bobby Shuttleworth. After collecting the ball, Shuttleworth and Finlay collide, and Finlay inadvertently made contact with Shuttleworth's head is eventually shown a straight red card by center referee Armando Villareal. The consensus from New England fans is that this was a harsh red card during the game, seriously, go check out our Facebook post on the rescinded card, full of pro-Finlay comments and people glad to see Finlay eligible for the 2015 season opener.
But was Villareal wrong to dismiss Finlay for this play? No, he wasn't, and while this was more of an accident by Finlay, he's still responsible for avoiding contact with the keeper in this situation. I've got two past instances to prove it to you. The first is Kelyn Rowe in 2012 vs. New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara and the second is Vancouver Whitecaps' Kekuta Manneh in 2013 for a challenge on Bobby Shuttleworth. The video's are below as well.
Notice the similarities between Rowe and Finlay's plays in particular because both of them never change their runs. Manneh tries to jump over Shuttleworth and is late and caught Bobby with a foot and immediately acknowledged he'd made contact. In the previous two instances, Rowe and Manneh were shown yellow cards on the field and then subsequently suspended by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for one-game for a reckless challenge.
Which is why I don't understand why Finlay's red card was overturned on appeal by the MLS Independent Review Board. Both the MLS DC and IRB are three-man committees with one representative from US Soccer, Canada's CSA and the Professional Referee's Organization. These two committees are now overseeing two different philosophies which I find odd considering that they're made up of the same organizations.
If we're going to have these types of calls, they need to be consistent. Personally, goalkeepers are always going to be held to a high standard of protection. If you're going up against a goalkeeper for a 50/50 ball and you lose out and make contact, the foul is always going to be on you. I understand that Finlay doesn't have a lot of time to react to Shuttleworth winning the ball, but he does have ample time to pull out of his run and determine that he can't get to the ball. By continuing his run he's essential guilty of any late tackle a defender would make against on outfield player. The fact that Shuttleworth's momentum carries him into Finlay means nothing to the referee in this case, the onus is, and always will be, on the attacker to avoid contact.
Now, I'm not disappointed or even mad that Finlay's card was rescinded, it doesn't affect anything for the Revs going forward and as a fan it signaled, and slightly soured, the end of a very well fought playoff series between the Revs and Crew. But as a referee, the red card needed to be upheld on appeal. The fact that we're still talking about consistency issues with the MLS DC/IRB and MLS referees grows tiresome. For two years referees have seen this call get upgraded to a red card from a yellow and now they're getting mixed messages. Losing a challenge with a goalkeeper by an attacker and making contact with his head as you continue his run has been a red card the last two years, and was on the field last Sunday, only to be overturned. Not the example that needs to be set right now by the league.
Finlay's red card being overturned does not excuse the foul on the field, so anyone looking for vindication and going "SEE!? It's not a red card!" needs to settle down and look at the big picture. Had Steve Clark been on the receiving end of a similar play by a Revolution player I'd be saying the same thing, because past history dictates Finlay's actions as being worthy of a straight red card. It might be harsh, I might've felt bad about it when it happened, but it did.
But I do understand why the card was rescinded, despite the fact Finlay needs to abort that run and I hope he has learned from this experience. Part of me wants to blame the situation on the field, and the fact that Villareal and the other MLS officials have largely had a "let the players play style" that went into last week. With the aggregate score at 6-2 and only 30 minutes to play, the Crew were a longshot to advance or force extra time and Villareal chose that moment to reign in control of the game before things might've gotten out of hand. I understand the Crew wanting to keep battling and fighting for another goal, as evidenced by Justin Meram's two yellow card fouls that saw him sent off in the 85th minute (both were deserved yellows, but congratulations to Meram on his call up to Iraq's national team), but there is a time and a place to pick your spots. Finlay's decision to continue his run against Shuttleworth ended up being a poor decision and was, arguably, rightly punished on the field.
Quick aside on Gregg Berhalter, who I actually think has done a tremendous job with the Crew in his first season as head coach, but his comments about Shuttleworth embellishing a concussion were out of place. Revs legend Taylor Twellman was forced to retire early due to concussions, so this is a sore subject in New England, and I understand it's Berhalter's job to stand up to his players, but this was the wrong way of doing it as far as I'm concerned.
Concussions are a serious issue in sports, and what Shuttleworth did was what most trainers would've told him to do anyway, lie on his back and not move while he's being evaluated. What Berhalter strongly implies is that Shuttleworth faked a concussion to draw a red card and that's not okay for anyone to say in today's game. I'd like to remind Berhalter, and Crew fans, that it was your player that struck Shuttleworth in the head, the way to avoid this situation is to not make contact with the keeper.
What should be highlighted in this play, is the fact that Villareal had to deal with other players before tending to Shuttleworth on the ground, specifically Jermaine Jones grapping a fistful of Finlay's shirt. I agreed with coach Berhalter about Charlie Davies fine for embellishment a couple of months ago with Waylon Francis preventing him from taking a throw-in, I will say that Jones should get fined for grabbing Finlay's shirt. It will make up for the fact that he got hosed by the MLS DC the week before.
Now, onto the other piece of Revs related referee decisions, and for this we go to the Red Bulls-D.C. United second leg game. Already on a yellow card, and facing an accumulation suspension for the first leg of the East Finals, NYRB left back Roy Miller did this:
And rightly was shown a straight red card. For another example, here's DC's Fabian Espindola doing more or less the same thing to NYRB's Dax McCarty two months ago:
I don't care what New York head coach Mike Petke says about his intent to appeal this, at the very least that's a second yellow card to Miller and he's still missing both legs of the East Finals to New England for accumulation and a red card for two yellows. You cannot, under any circumstance, play a shoulder/chest high ball with a foot and make contact with an opponent. It's a red card, has been since Nani for Manchester United vs. Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, and it should be. I talked about Finlay's decision to not break off his run vs. Shuttleworth, well Miller's decision to play that ball endangered the safety of his opponent. Just because Miller's on a yellow, doesn't mean you can't get a straight red card and I hope that this is wishful thinking on the part of the Red Bulls to appeal this. Ismail Elfath got this one right on the field and had zero hesitation in his decision.
So, that's all I've got. Finlay might not have deserved the harsh red card but it still has to be a red card and I fully expect to see Roy Miller sitting for both legs of the East Finals. Feel free to have a lively and respectable discussion in the comments below as we get ready to enjoy the MLS Conference Finals.
Except for Roy Miller, who (presumably) will be on his couch.