Last Saturday was not a good day for soccer referees. On the local scene, Minnesota United was left frustrated after referee Daniel Fitzgerald disallowed a second-half Daniel Mendes goal against the New York Cosmos for a handball, despite Mendes not coming anywhere near the ball with his hand.
Local soccer website Northern Pitch clarified with Brian Hall, the development manager for the Professional Referee Organization, that the goal should have stood — small consolation to the Loons, who missed out on a chance to go to the top of the NASL thanks in large part to a bad call. The game ended 0-0.
Across the pond, things didn’t go much better. In a contentious match between Chelsea and Arsenal, referee Mike Dean sent off Arsenal defender Gabriel Paulista after he clashed with Chelsea winger Diego Costa. This, despite Costa first striking Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny in the face, then shoving and slapping Gabriel to incite him into kicking out at Costa; he missed, but Dean sent him off anyway.
The Football Association, England’s governing body, handed down perhaps the ultimate rebuke to Dean. It rescinded Gabriel’s red card, thus canceling the automatic three-match suspension that went with it, and handed a three-match suspension to Costa instead. Delayed justice, perhaps, except that Chelsea had already used its advantage to walk away from the weekend with a 2-0 win.
Soccer has been even slower than notoriously conservative sports such as baseball to embrace instant replay. The Loons game and the incidents in the London rivalry were just two more examples of games in which bad refereeing decisions affected the outcome. And if soccer needs a model, there’s one on full display right now — the rugby system that’s under the spotlight at this month’s Rugby World Cup.
International rugby places a television match official (TMO) in a booth, with access to a full suite of replays, and allows the on-field referee to talk directly to the television referee. If the field referee needs help deciding whether a team has scored, or whether a player has engaged in foul play, he can stop the game and ask the TMO for help with the decision. Fans in the stands can see exactly what the TMO is watching on the stadium’s jumbo screen; additionally, television viewers can hear the conversation between referee and TMO.
As in all sports, instant replay can slow the game down, and there are times that replays are no more conclusive than the referee’s view of the game. That said, virtually every other sport has decided that both downsides are a small price to pay. Replay will come too late to help Minnesota or Arsenal, but its introduction in soccer is long overdue.
Soccer Short Takes
• There are no dominant teams in Major League Soccer, and from one week to the next, anything can happen. This week’s case in point is the Seattle Sounders, who won the Supporters’ Shield in 2014 and started 2015 with three months at the top of the Western Conference. Within a few weeks, though, the Sounders lost Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey, and without its all-star strikers, the team lost eight of nine games and dropped out of the playoff contention. Now that both are back, the Sounders are flying again, three points out of first place. To prove the point, they beat Western Conference leaders Vancouver 3-0 twice in five days — first in the league, then in the CONCACAF Champions League.
• The Boston Breakers voted, as a team, to name former Woodbury High star Kassey Kallman the team’s player of the year for her performance at center back. Kallman, 23, captained the Breakers and played every minute for Boston this season, one year after helping FC Kansas City win the NWSL title as a rookie. Despite the accolades, though, she probably didn’t make any extra friends in Boston last week. In Montreal to watch fellow Woodbury product Eric Miller play for the Montreal Impact against the New England Revolution, she tweeted, “Sorry Boston fans #AllezMontreal.”
• Miguel Ibarra, the former United star, has settled into a regular role as a substitute for Club Leon in Mexico, playing a portion of the second half in all of the team’s September games thus far, save one. Leon is having a season to remember. The team leads Liga MX, with seven wins in nine games, and won its Copa MX group to advance to the quarterfinals. Tuesday’s home game with perennial powerhouse Club America looms large for Leon; a win might give it the inside track on the fall season championship.
• The Gophers women’s soccer team made its debut in the Top 25 this week, coming in at No. 18 in the coaches’ poll after beating then-No. 4 Penn State and then-No. 20 Ohio State on the road. Junior striker Simone Kolander, who scored the game-winning goals in both games, was named the Big Ten offensive player of the week.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Premier League: Arsenal at Leicester City, 9 a.m. Saturday, USA. Many people, including me, picked Leicester City as relegation candidates — yet there it is, fourth in the standings and the only remaining undefeated team in the Premier League. Four games in a row, the Foxes have fallen behind; four games in a row, they’ve come back to earn at least a draw. The team’s penchant for falling behind may be a concern, but its comeback ability is impressive. Arsenal, meanwhile, will be hoping to use a midweek League Cup win against rival Tottenham to forget a league loss to Chelsea last weekend.
Liga MX: Guadalajara at Club America, 5 p.m. Saturday, Univision. Whether you speak Spanish or not, the game they call “El Super Clasico” is worth a watch. The biggest rivalry in Mexican soccer is also, occasionally, the most riotous. America, based in Mexico City, is having a better time of it in the fall season, and is only three points off Club Leon’s pace; Guadalajara, popularly known as “Chivas,” is mired in the bottom half of the standings. That said, this game is less about records and more about the battle between Mexico’s two most historically successful clubs.
NASL: Minnesota at Fort Lauderdale, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Ch 45. New York followed up its draw with Minnesota by getting comprehensively drubbed by Ottawa, 4-1 at home. While the loss put a dent in New York’s hopes to win both halves of the NASL season, it also vaulted Ottawa above Minnesota by two points in the combined standings — and five points clear, at the top of the fall standings. If Minnesota is to host a semifinal playoff game, it has just a half-dozen games to claw back from that deficit. The Strikers will not be a pushover; apart from a draw and a loss against Ottawa, Fort Lauderdale has won four games in a row.
Bundesliga: SV Darmstadt at Borussia Dortmund, 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Fox Sports 2. Newly promoted Darmstadt earned its first home Bundesliga win in 33 years Tuesday, beating Werder Bremen 2-1. On the other side, Dortmund lost for the first time this season Wednesday, tying 1-1 with TSG Hoffenheim. The tie dropped BVB behind Bayern Munich, which destroyed VfL Wolfsburg 5-1 thanks to an astonishing five goals in nine minutes from Robert Lewandowski. The accomplishments of Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who became the first player to score in the first six matches of a Bundesliga season, almost pale in comparison.