The controversy that erupted was due to the fact that RBNY defender Kemar Lawrence happened to be sitting on the ground injured during the buildup as Juan Agudelo sprinted past him mostly uncontested to find Diego Fagundez wide open on the back post to slot home the game's only goal.
Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles would be cautioned for dissent for his protest on the play and it's easy to understand why. Of all the people at Gillette Stadium that day, he might have been the only person who saw Lawrence on the ground before Scott Caldwell played Agudelo the ball over the top of the defense.
So what in the hell happened? Why did it take me five replays to figure out this entire sequence I rewound my DVR over and over to figure this one out? Well the rules here are very clear, the referee by rule is only supposed to stop play for a serious injury such as a head injury or bleeding. The Revolution are under no obligation to play the ball out of bounds to allow trainers to tend to Lawrence, or in this case, allow him to be subbed off. Lawrence's position deep behind his backline keeps Agudelo onside, and there's nothing that allows the assistant on that sideline to ignore the injured player when judging offside call. This is I was initially dumbfounded as to how Agudelo was so wide open, I literally missed Lawrence sitting down behind the play the first couple of replays.
But I ask again, what in the hell happened to allow a rare goal with an injured player on the field?The Revs nor Mark Geiger did anything wrong according to the laws of the game, so we're getting into "unwritten rule" territory here. And of all the things I've seen and read this week, I'm not sure I'm seen anyone mention this aspect of Lawrence's injury.
This is not the best angle of this goal, but it's all we have in the highlights. What we don't see are two key things before the goal: when Lawrence may have picked up his injury and when he sat down about 30 yards from his own goal. This is important information for later as I explain how this goes wrong for the Red Bulls.
Around the 53:45 mark is where we last see Lawrence, fully upright and recently having fended off Agudelo in the Red Bulls defensive third. Ten seconds later, Bobby Shuttleworth is passing the ball up to Scott Caldwell at midfield who then in turn goes over the top to Agudelo.
And do you know what's missing in that ten second window? Anyone from the New York Red Bulls outfield players telling the referees and/or the Revs that they have a player down. That, more than anything else about this play from the Revs sportsmanship to Geiger's decisions on the day, is really, really important.
That ten second window is not long enough for a three man referee crew to notice a downed player 60 yards from where the play actually is. There's a decent chance that the assistant on the RBNY half is aware of Lawrence's position as far as offside goes, but in the time that Lawrence sits down to the play coming back into the New York half, there isn't enough time for the AR to communicate to Geiger that there should be a stoppage. In a non-professional setting or a youth game, you'd likely see the AR signalling for a foul by sticking his flag up and waving it, signalling the referee for to stop play.
So again, why didn't that happen here? There's not a referee in the world who wouldn't stop play for an injury when the opposing keeper has the ball on the other side of the field if, and this is a huge IF, he knows about said injury. The Revs had played the ball back to their keeper and as far as I can tell, this is when Lawrence decided on his own and possibly without telling anyone, that he had an injury and sat down.
This puts Geiger and the Revs in an impossible position. No one from the Red Bulls is communicating to the referees or New England about the current situation happening in the RBNY half of the field. Why? Because none of the outfield players know that Lawrence is down behind the play either. Lawrence is relying on the far side assistant and at most a ten second window to get a stoppage in play and a substitution.
And it never comes. No one should blame the referee crew for not blowing the play dead or the Revs for not playing the ball out. Neither party is aware of the injury until it's far too late to stop the play and the Red Bulls concede the only goal of the game. That doesn't mean that RBNY fans don't have a reason to be unhappy, they absolutely do, but this is a learning experience for everyone involved, including the Red Bulls.
PRO's Training & Development Manager Paul Rejer talked about this play in the "Play of the Week" column on the referee organization's website. He says the following about the play:
"In the context of this play, as I have explained above, the New England players were unaware of any injury when the attack first developed, then Agudelo and Fagundez were totally focused and in the zone of an attacking move. Therefore, there was no evidence for Geiger to stop the game for a serious injury to a player and there was absolutely no obligation for the Revolution players to stop playing."
I do think that Agudelo is aware that Lawrence is behind the play because of his position behind the established backline of the Red Bulls defense. But Agudelo likely is unaware that Lawrence is behind the play because of an injury, or at least Juan doesn't know that Lawrence is sitting on the ground until he's dribbling by him. So how do the Revs or the referee crew stop play for something they're not aware of? They can't, and you see the result.
What we have here is a fantastically bad breakdown in communication in two ways. First, did the AR notice Lawrence and have time to communicate to Geiger there was a player down? Because of the modern game's ability with radio headsets for instant communication between referees, if there was information provided to Geiger it came far too late in the window of time provided. Geiger at this point has no reason to stop play as the extent of Lawrence's injury is unknown and the ball is still in in the field of play.
The second, and far more critical to the play, is who besides Luis Robles on the Red Bulls, the furthest person to any of the referees, knew of Lawrence's plight? I'm guessing zero. Everyone on the full MLS Live replay is looking towards the ball and there's no one pointing or shouting at the Revs to play the ball out. This is a unique situation, and very rare in MLS circles, to have a goal scored while a defending player is injured and one that can be easily corrected.
Lawrence, or any down player, needs to make it very clear that they have an issue to EVERYONE on the field: his teammates, opposing players, the referees, the bench are all people who can in turn notify others that there is a stoppage required. Information can be relayed faster via the referee headsets if an assistant and the 4th official are made aware of the situation. This is a play that shouldn't happen, not because the Revs should play the ball out of bounds, but because of the way the referees in particular can communicate with each other in a professional game.
Obviously, this play happened too quickly for Lawrence and the Red Bulls to get their stoppage and it possibly cost them one point. I don't take offense to Jesse Marsch's comments about the Revs being "shameful" because they came in the heat of the moment after a very bad day for RBNY.
Should Juan Agudelo have played that ball out of bounds? Did he violate the unwritten rules of the game of soccer? That, for the purposes of this column, is irrelevant. You may discuss that among yourselves if you wish, but referees are not here to judge "sportsmanship" as Rejer mentions later about a RSL-SKC play in that column discussing the Revs goal above. Referees enforce the laws of the game, and they can't stop an ongoing play for an injury if no one tells them about it.
The most recent example of this play was pointed out by Jason Christley in last year's Orlando-NYC game, where NYC had an injured player in their own box, played on, and Orlando scored on the counter. Again, Orlando is under no direct obligation to play the ball out of bounds, nor is the referee required to stop play for a non-head/bleeding-type injury. Orlando scored and went on to win the game 2-1.
If we're going to wade into unwritten rule territory, the reason why OCSC played on here is because NYCFC had the opportunity to play the ball out themselves. They chose to play on with Josh Saunders quickly rolling the ball upfield and NYC getting into the Orlando third. So when the counter happens the other way, OCSC isn't about to let NYC off the hook and slot home winner through Cyle Larin. I don't see anything wrong with that play either, as far as the referee letting play continue.
The Revolution were playing the ball backwards to their own keeper last Friday would probably play the ball out of bounds during that sequence if they're aware of Lawrence's injury. By all logic on the unwritten rules, this is when they should play the ball out of bounds and do the Red Bulls a solid and get Lawrence off the field. But they can't perform that favor if no one asks. I don't particularly love the way the Revolution scored that goal as a fan, but as a referee there's nothing wrong with that play. It's unfortunate for the Red Bulls, and more bad timing than it is bad communication as Lawrence also never had much of chance to tell anyone on the field about his situation.
Mark Geiger also could have also stopped play to allow the RBNY trainers to tend to Lawrence if he knew about it and restarted with a drop ball in the Revolution half. There's also a slight chance that Geiger could've stopped play if he judged Lawrence's down position as potentially dangerous and he was at risk for further injury if play continued. In this case, and the Orlando-NYC play above, the player is far enough removed from the play to avoid that stoppage. But again, there's a reason that this play is almost unheard of in soccer.
If the emphasis of the unwritten rule is to play the ball out and stop play when there's an injury, there should be an urgency from said shorthanded team to request that stoppage. There's a reason that this play is almost unheard of in soccer, and it's got nothing to do with sportsmanship but everything to do with communication from players on both sides and the referees.
Yes, this it's a rivalry game that New England desperately needed to win but the Revs are also not stooping to the level of anything that Jesse Marsch called them after the game either. Juan Agudelo wasn't exactly thrilled about the way the play went down and said so after the game. But this isn't the only play that Jesse Marsch and the Red Bulls were fuming about after the match.
But you'll have to wait for part two later this afternoon about the rash of straight red cards "plaguing" MLS right now.