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Watson "afraid to tackle" due to PRO changes

Officiating was once again the focus of the postgame after Saturday's 1-1 draw with Toronto. The calls have left Heaps exasperated, and some players like Watson unsure of what's a legal play these days.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

One point is better than none, to be sure, but when at home, three points are always best. The New England Revolution were disappointed to leave two points on the turf on Saturday afternoon against Toronto FC despite having the better of the chances and play for most of the match. However, they are rightfully taking that disappointment with a heaping helping of salt after a refereeing performance that head coach Jay Heaps believes decided the game.

"When you have five out of six games determined by the referee, it's becoming disappointing," he said after the match. "Unfortunately, this really early part of the year we've been talking a lot about referees. They've got to make the right calls. They stand by it when they make the right red card calls, and you have to stand by it when they miss penalty kick calls, and they missed two tonight."

Heaps is referring specifically to two incidents in which the Revs had convincing shouts for penalties. Late in the match, Charlie Davies was bundled over in the box by a crowd of Toronto players with no discernible reaction from Edvin Jurisevic, and before that, Teal Bunbury appeared to be kicked and tripped in the box by Drew Moor.

The last one was particularly galling since the ensuing clearance lead to Toronto's goal.

"He kicks him, you can hear it from the bench. The fact that four guys didn't see it is sad."

The 2016 MLS season has been full of gripes about officiating, to the point where Professional Referees Organization head Peter Walton felt compelled to explain the sudden rash of red cards in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. In this match, there was a challenge that perhaps should have been a red card, but resulted in only a yellow for Justin Morrow after he lunged in recklessly on Gershon Koffie.

For the players, it's making it difficult for them to play their game.

"In a sense, sometimes I'm afraid to tackle," said Je-Vaughn Watson after the match. "The first thing the referee said to me is that I go in too hard. I'm not going to go in and try to toe-poke the ball away from a guy without touching him. It's a contact sport."

When asked if it's difficult to predict what might be a foul, a yellow card, or a red card, Heaps had a more succinct answer: "Yes."

Heaps took further issue with an invalidated goal at the end of the match, where the assistant referee ruled that the ball had crossed the endline before Femi Hollinger-Janzen volleyed it back across the face of goal for Lee Nguyen to finish.

A review of the replay shows that it was close, if anything. However, the assistant referee on that side does not appear to be in any position to be able to see if the ball is over the line or not. At the time of his press conference, Heaps had not yet reviewed the replay, though he later saw it on a television in the room.

"For me, you've got to be in the right position," he said before reviewing the play. "He's called it out by an inch, so he's got to be on the line to be able to see that."

From a spectator's point of view, the worst sequence of the evening for Jurisevic was still the lead-up to the Toronto goal. The Revs feel - perhaps rightfully - that they were victimized twice during that play, first when Koffie is fouled and Morrow is not shown a red card, and then when Bunbury is scythed down in the box with no call.

There are convincing arguments for both plays. Bunbury may have gone down a little easily, but there's no denying that Moor made contact and did not play the ball on the play. The replays are clear. Morrow's challenge on Koffie is exactly the kind of reckless lunge that the PRO claims to be targeting in 2016. It matches up perfectly, and may even be worse, than the challenges that caused Koffie to be sent off at Yankee Stadium, and Felipe of the Red Bulls to be sent off at Gillette last week.

"It should have been a red card originally, it's as clear as day," Heaps said. "That's what Felipe got, that's what Gershon got, that's what they're calling. That should have been a red card, so I Think everyone thought that was a red card."

However, it has to be noted that after the penalty no-call, the Revolution seemed to lose focus on the match, and that was a contributing factor in Toronto's goal. The clearance after Bunbury went down fell to Will Johnson, who lofted a ball up to Jozy Altidore and sprung the counter while most of the Revs were still shouting at the referee.

New England was on the other side of a similar play last week when Diego Fagundez's goal was scored while Kemar Lawrence sat on the ground claiming injury. The down player kept Juan Agudelo onside for Andrew Farrell's long pass, and allowed the Revs to hit quickly on the break. The mantra then was that the Revs are a team taught to play to the whistle, and now that they find themselves in a situation where not playing to the whistle burned them, it seems they won't shy away from that mistake.

"It looks like we have a penalty, and then we're out of sorts and that can't happen," said Heaps. "And that's where I was disappointed in the play. We have to be better than what's being dictated by a non-call."