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The Third Yellow: Delamea’s Red Card and an Indirect Problem with VAR

Antonio Delamea will be back on the field Saturday against Orlando, but that doesn’t help the Revs following a shorthanded loss in New York City last week.

MLS: New England Revolution at New York City FC Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, so by now most of you are aware of what happened on Saturday. I was there in the stadium when Silviu Petrescu called a foul against New England Revolution centerback Antonio Delamea and issued him a yellow card barely ten minutes into the game. Then he signaled for a VAR review.

And pretty much everyone knew what was going to happen. Toni was the last man, this is going to be a red card.

Now, obviously the Revs disagreed with this and appealed and the league’s Independent Review Panel unanimously overturned the call and wiped away the red card.

There are a lot of angles of this play that show Delamea getting a clear touch on the ball and one (that I can’t find now) that does have Castellanos of New York City FC trying to touch the ball forward but Delamea blocks or redirects it.

This is an important factor in this play, not because Toni doesn’t commit a foul (we’ll get to that) but it does eliminate any chance of a DOGSO in my opinion.

There are four factors that go into a denial of a goal scoring opportunity:

– Distance between the offense and goal

– General direction of the play

– Likelihood of opponent keeping or gaining control of the ball

– Location and number of defenders

Yes, Delamea is the only defender within range besides the keeper and he’s about 20 yards from goal down the right hand channel. That is the last requirement is obviously met given the circumstances.

Everything else however is less clear to me. Castellanos is not in possession of the ball and he and the ball are not traveling towards the goal, the play and ball are traveling towards the endline and these are two separate things. The play in all likelihood could have ended up with NYCFC in possession but on the outside edge of the box on the right wing in a tough direct scoring angle for a shot from still about 20 yards.

For the VAR to initiate a review for DGSO in this situation and for Petrescu to agree with it and award a red card in my opinion is wrong and clearly the IRP agreed in overturning the decision. It is not a guarantee nor is it obvious that Castellanos would have been in possession of the ball with a clear scoring chance after Delamea’s play on the ball kept it going towards the endline and away from goal.

In order to guarantee a DOGSO on this play, Castellanos first touch had to be towards the goal (it might have been but two angles say he fluffed his touch on the ball), Delamea has to miss the ball (he clearly played the ball towards the endline), and Castellanos has to be moving towards the goal (he’s still parallel with Delamea towards the endline when contact is made). That’s a lot of factors on one play that need to change in order for this to be a clear and obvious DOGSO on review in my opinion and possibly the Review Panel’s as well.

However, that does not mean that Delamea did not commit a foul or violation on this play. In fact, he may have committed my favorite violation - obstruction.

While Delamea clearly played the ball he simultaneously took away an opportunity for Castellanos to regain or contest for possession of the ball when he clattered into the NYCFC player in the same motion. Whether or not Castellanos could have contested possession against Matt Turner or if Delamea stayed with the play, I have no problem with a whistle here because while Delamea clearly played the ball first, but the ball is still within reach or playable to both him and Castellanos and it wasn’t a clear pass attempt back to Turner - so it’s still a 50/50 ball. In fact, if the original call stayed as a foul and yellow card, we’re probably not writing this column.

At the end of the day, Petrescu and VAR official Guido Gonzales Jr were well within their right to go through a review process for a DOGSO based on the information they already had - which was a tripping foul and direct free kick from about 25 yards away from goal. What they both failed to do was review the play in its entirety to make sure their original call was correct and identify all aspects of the play for a possible DOGSO.

Now, maybe they did do that, but since Petrescu was only at the monitor for a brief time, I’m going to assume all they looked at was Delamea’s position as the last man and determined that was enough for a DOGSO. If that is the case, that’s an embarrassing mistake to happen in September of the regular season.

Which brings me to the other half of this column and something I eluded to (rather badly cause I was on the road) during last week’s Revolution Recap podcast.

There are a lot of ways for VAR to escalate a call on the field and award or upgrade a yellow or red card given the situation...but there aren’t a lot of ways for VAR to seemingly de-escalate calls to avoid what happened last week.

I used the Andrew Farrell penalty kick in stoppage time as my example but that was a stone cold penalty. Farrell clearly dumps Mitritu in the box and that review was 1000% correct, but my concept or theory still stands.

Lets say Farrell, or any defender, makes a sliding challenge or any tackle attempt in the box between the ball and the attacker. However the defender doesn’t get the ball but also doesn’t make contact with the opponent either, at least not initially. The attacker is probably going to make contact with the defender because the sliding defender is now in his way. In reality, the defender has committed not a tripping foul, he has not initiated the contact, the attacker has. What we should be calling is an obstruction violation/foul, one that would technically result in an indirect free kick.

Now, it’s pretty common place for anyone making a sliding challenge and missing the ball to be whistled for a direct free kick for tripping. However, we’ve been instructing and teaching defenders to play the ball and not make careless plays against opponents, particularly on slide tackles. As long as a defender is clearly making a legal attempt at the ball throughout the challenge (i.e. - referees can still whistle a foul if they deem the tackle to be careless/reckless or the challenge could have endangered the safety of an opponent), and doesn’t initiate contact with an opponent, upon review it wouldn’t be unreasonable to award an indirect free kick for obstruction, instead of a direct free kick or a penalty.

This concept goes especially for handball calls as well. Most handball calls are incidental and get whistled or reviewed for penalties far too often by VAR. There is currently a need to expand the rules regarding IFK’s inside the penalty area, specifically for handballs, but for other offenses as well with the introduction of video review. The laws are written for absolute situations and most of these plays fall in a massive gray area that is up to the individuals on the field to sort things out. There’s currently no area of compromise, only two extreme options that are to award penalties or the call on the field stands.

If we’re teaching defenders to play the ball and not the man, they shouldn’t be given a penalty for committing an obstruction violation and VAR reviews should allow the complex and gray area in their decisions. Yes, the law currently states obstruction only happens without contact but that is not always the interpretation on the field. Obstruction, at least as I have known it, is usually unintentional contact that impedes one player’s progress towards the ball, thus denying said player an advantage. Delamea played the ball but in the same motion made contact with Castellanos, thus unintentionally impeding the NYCFC player’s progress towards the ball - see? Obstruction, not tripping.

Obstruction is always an IFK because it’s more a violation than it is a foul. If a player is clearly trying for the ball and doesn’t intentionally or carelessly initiate contact with an opponent, say by sliding two or three feet in front of them to attempt to clear a ball but misses - when the opponent makes contact with the sliding player it should be obstruction and an indirect kick restart, not a direct kick or a penalty for tripping.

Again, this is a theory and not actual laws or rules for the game currently. But we’re seeing a lot of reviewed plays for questionable or 50/50 situations and the only options are foul/card/penalty or no foul. And there needs to be a compromise somewhere, because these plays are not simple. Yes, the defense took away an advantage but did not commit a foul in the process, and there should be many situations where a indirect free kick can be awarded. Is the system perfect? No, it’s not supposed to be. But it’s also not supposed to be unfair either and it seems a lot of 50/50 calls have to be judged on extremes which is unrealistic.

I want to give credit to Petrescu given the circumstances of refereeing at Yankee Stadium because you have to throw out all logic to manage and call a game on that postage stamp. Almost every other foul is going to be tactical in nature because of the size of the field and the congestion of the players. I do not recall a Revs-NYCFC game on that ragged patch of infield grass that I would consider a “well officiated match” because I do not think such a thing exists. That is not a referee problem, that is a league problem for continuing to allow such nonsense to be played in the Bronx.

I will continue to say that VAR is the far better option than Goal Line Technology and this system is still a work in progress. Asking for 100% accuracy from officials on the field or the VAR booth is never going to happen nor should that be the expectation.

But we should expect an experienced center referee to do far more due diligence on a play with VAR than Petrescu did last Saturday.