Okay, we’re going to talk about one of my biggest pet peeves in refereeing. This is not something that is simply limited to soccer, it occurs in pretty much all North American sports and especially in the playoffs.
It is the concept of never calling a two minute minor penalty in overtime of the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs. It is the concept of swallowing the whistle in the final two minutes of an NBA game leading to those hilarious Final Two Minute Reports. It is the concept of “let the players decide it on the field” in the playoffs without the officials intervening to affect the outcome.
The concept that in the playoffs there is a different set of rules by which officials call things is absolutely one of the things that drives me insane during November playoff soccer, late game situations, or any of the above scenarios I described earlier.
Now the reason this annoys me is that it changes the consistency in which games are called, and that’s not fair for a variety of reasons. If something is a foul in the first 5 minutes, it should be a foul in the last 5 minutes. It’s the same play in March as it is in November and it should be called as such.
Now, Alex Chilowicz officiated last weekend’s New England Revolution 3-1 win over Orlando City FC in a match where he awarded, correctly, two penalties and issued a straight red card. And yet I think he had a mediocre game overall because his game management and consistency was very poor throughout. And then there was one major problem I had, but we’ll get to that at the end. Here’s a few examples from the NE-ORL game I wanted to touch on before we talk about what occurred at the hour mark.
Buchanan Picks Nani’s Pocket (26th minute)
This was a no-call that started a counter attack that led to New England’s second goal in quick succession. Was this a foul? I have no idea because Chilowicz allowed a lot of handsy contact on the day and cherry picked a few times to call some tit-for-tat fouls throughout the match. There were a lot of double teams however that did not result in fouls and I would lean towards this being a decent no-call IF, and only if, it was consistent throughout the match.
Another time these two clashed, Buchanan very clearly had a handful of Nani’s shirt on defense and went down under pressure and got the call, setting off Nani for what should have been his first dissent yellow but instead just got a talking too from Chilowicz and the universal sign for “no more” from the referee about dissent. There would be a lot more dissent.
Adam Buksa’s Yellow Card (28th minute)
I have no problem with this card, Buksa makes an aerial challenge with a high arm and catches a defender in the head. This is a textbook caution. That also should have been issued to Matt Polster who did the exact same thing like 5 minutes before this. That play ALWAYS needs to be a yellow at a minimum, a forearm is not a tool you use to win the ball against another player.
Teal Bunbury Pushes Antonio Carlos into Matt Turner and Matt Polster (45th minute)
Don’t think I didn’t forget this one, this was really blatant actually as Teal Bunbury basically commits an NFL holding and block in the back foul on the Orlando defender in New England’s penalty area and the result is a foul on Carlos for keeper interference. I don’t think that’s how that works and I was very surprised VAR didn’t intervene here for a variety of reasons. That was not a situation in which two players were battling for a ball and inadvertently clashed with the keeper. That was a foul on Bunbury and should have been a penalty for Orlando.
Adam Buksa’s foul on Brian Rowe (71st) vs Daryl Dike’s foul on Matt Turner (53rd)
Let’s do a full stop for one second before we break this down. In both situations, the goalkeepers in these plays are actually “outfield” players in possession during the run of play and not goalkeepers and there are no special protections for them in this situation in theory. I add that caveat because I can assure you, most referees including myself do protect keepers a little more even when they are outfield players.
That being said, these are not the same foul, yet a lot of people in Orlando seem to think they are. Let’s assume that both of these fouls occur at midfield against any other outfield player. Dike commits a sliding challenge with an extended leg and studs showing though he catches Turner on his follow through with his arm/body while Buksa uses his shoulder to try and body his opponent off the ball.
I would expect Dike’s challenge to be carded about 90% of the time if not more, simply for showing his studs. In 2020, merely attempting a challenge that exposes your studs without contact is a reckless challenge and should be sanctioned with a yellow card.
Now, Buksa’s shoulder/body challenge is late, but not excessively so in my opinion to warrant a yellow card on its own. However, at the end of the challenge, Buksa and Rowe’s legs tangle very awkwardly to the point I don’t think it’s wrong to say it endangered Rowe and very easily could have been Buksa’s second yellow card.
Orlando really wanted this match to be 10-versus-10 for the final twenty minutes. More likely it should have been 10 Revs against 8 Lions because of things that occurred ten minutes prior.
The Afters of Mauricio Pereyra’s Red Card (62nd Minute)
Pereyra’s red card on Matt Polster for leaping into the air and landing one of his studs into Polster’s hamstring is not in question. I will however mention that perhaps knowing Orlando has been complaining for the last fifty minutes or so about everything, that perhaps Mr. Chilowicz should have waited longer than one second to produce the straight red card to Pereyra.
Mauricio Pereyra received a straight red card for this tackle— Mr. Eddie (@Lionh3rt) November 29, 2020
That aside, what occurs after is not the referee’s doing and should have resulted in the following:
Nani sent off for violent conduct for making contact with a referee and a six game suspension for referee assault.
Junior Urso sent off for violent conduct for making contact with a referee and a six game suspension for referee assault.
These are the same suspensions Jermaine Jones received back in 2015 when he reacted to a no-call and charged at Mark Geiger in a playoff match and Clint Dempsey received for tearing a referee’s notebook in half in a US Open Cup match in 2014 (Dempsey also served a three-match MLS suspension).
Let me back up a half hour. Nani and Orlando have been complaining very loudly and animated for a long time. No dissent cards were issued by Chilowicz until Nani received one in the afters of this play despite being sworn at and contacted by Nani previous to this incident. Chilowicz’s failure to caution Nani prior to this is incomprehensible to me but, I get it, playoff refereeing exists and keeping everyone on the field unless absolutely necessary is a way of November soccer.
This is an atrocity to the sport of soccer. Alex Chilowicz is a good referee and he did the sport a disservice over the weekend by allowing this behavior from Orlando City throughout the match. Taylor Twellman saw it from the broadcast booth and said as much other commentators saw it on their televisions:
HOW MANY TIMES IS NANI ALLOWED TO BUMP / GRAB THE REFEREE……— Brian Dunseth (@BrianDunseth) November 29, 2020
Why am I being hard on Chilowicz for the abuse thing? Because this is a way of life for a lot of players in the grassroots/local level of the game and it needs to be reported and punished at all levels of the game as often as possible. It is a scourge in all sports, thinking that it is okay to treat referees in anything other than a professional manner and unconscionable that it occurred and went unpunished in a professional match. It’s not acceptable for players to behave this way on a crap dirt field behind your local middle school any more than a professional soccer match in the playoffs in November.
The only thing more disrespectful than Nani behaving like that for 90 minutes is the referee allowing it to continue for 90 minutes or the league Disciplinary Committee for not suspending Nani and Urso to begin the season. That is not boys will be boys in playoff sports, this is beyond unacceptable behavior from professional athletes and the laws and precedent is clear - it’s a six game suspension for making contact with a referee.
Orlando City fans feel hard done by a couple of no calls that may or may not have an effect on the outcome of the game. I can assure you getting three justified red cards in as many minutes and only having one issued is by far the more egregious non-call in that playoff match than a potential second yellow card to one Revolution player. One of these things, a common or hard foul, is a subjective opinion and the other is not.
It is more egregious to let things go uncalled in the playoffs simply because the stakes are higher. These games are where we need referees to be more on point with their calls, not less.