TFC 2010 | Week#11

Gong Show at BMO

Straight Red Card to Garcia

Straight Red???

Referee Determines Match

It was a surprise yesterday when the weather cleared and offered the nicest match-day at BMO Field this season. It was easily the best atmosphere in the stands yet. Ultimately, however, it wasn’t a sweet goal or a triumph that electrified the crowd. Instead, the jolt came when the referee ejected Toronto FC’s defender, Nick Garcia, with a straight red card in the 27th minute. Simply put, it was a bad tackle, a yellow card probably. But everyone present could see a red card was totally out of order.

Garcia had not been playing recklessly before that play, no previous cards or warnings were issued to him. The Wizards’ Kei Kamara’s lame theatrics certainly oversold the infraction, but the referee wasn’t even looking at him. Referee Baldomero Toledo pulled out the red card so quickly that the wildest conspiracy theories seem justified. It was a game changing moment. Despite a good effort one man down, the decision stole what looked like a convincing win in the making from Toronto FC.

The Referee made some strange calls and non-calls against the visitors too. On balance, though, it was obvious Toronto FC took the worst of this bad officiating. I guess the biggest surprise of 2010 is that it took this long for bad officials to catch up with the Reds. In the end, short of some goals and a win, the bad refereeing kept the crowd’s intensity up and the supporters’ sections bouncing. Ironically, it made it one of the most fun games to attend this year.

Baldomero Toledo = Black Eye for Sport

It seemed from Toronto FC’s matches thus far this season that the MLS’ penchant for bad referees had been reformed. The CBC reports that Balmondo Toledo has issued 41 red cards in 96 matches. Either he’s called in for the rough games, or he’s got an itchy red card finger. Either way, Toledo’s domineering intervention is a shameful brand of officiating. It steals from the purpose of the contest – to see two teams play it out fairly – and sullies the reputation of the sport as a whole.

If it had been one bad call, as unjust as that red card was to Toronto FC, it might have been pardonable. Toledo, though, seemed intent on determining the outcome of the match yesterday. His questionable judgments did not end with Garcia. He waived off an obvious penalty kick to Dwayne De Rosario, when he was pulled down in the penalty area as well. Apparently, the oblique shot on goal left for Julian de Guzman warranted a continuation of play rather than a shot from the spot. Later, Toledo failed to issue a card of any colour to a Kansas City defender who blatantly booted Chad Barrett in the face.

Toledo ruined the fair contest on the field. The flagrancy of his stupidity and poor judgment really juiced up the crowd at BMO. With a win seemingly out of the question, the fans were united in their hatred for Balmondo Toledo. Suddenly, it became clear why soccer referees need a police escort on and off the pitch. To me, it reinforced why I have such a hard time changing my friends’ opinions about professional soccer. The most frequent complaints I hear are (1) the games are boring/low scoring, (2) the diving is ridiculous and (3) the officiating is unfair.

Et tu Henry

Thierren Henry may sit on the bench for France this month in South Africa, but his hand-ball goal in the qualifying round is the only reason his nation is present for the contest at all. Just ask the Irish if they think there should be instant replays for officials to review calls made on the field by the referee. The addition of video replays has been a major improvement for NHL hockey, and it has a useful role in NFL football as well. Only FIFA can understand the wisdom of denying this addition to the other football’s highest standard contests. Instead, while the entire world can plainly see otherwise on replays gracing TV sets and scoreboards, the referee is obliged to ensure that a missed call is a definite force in determining meaningful contests.

It’s time to revisit this injustice. Times have changed. Technology has changed. Soccer/football must catch up.

If FIFA won’t do it, the MLS should

As passionate a fan as I am, there are things that really rankle me about the sport of soccer. Like most North Americans, I have a hard time with the diving and injury play-acting that plague the professional game. Obviously the awarding of free-kicks are potent in determining advantage, especially in tightly contested games. In my opinion, this should put an even greater premium on honesty and integrity. Players’ conduct in this regard should be reformed. And officials should be harder on fakers and abusers of the rules. Unless  incapacitated and requiring treatment, players should be immediately yellow carded if they rise to play immediately after embellishing a fall or tackle. Red cards should follow for flagrant performers and for teams that persist in using this ploy as a strategy for gaining advantage in play.

By the same measure, no fan of any sport wants to watch games where the referees are the primary force of the action, or the primary arbiter of its outcome. It is ridiculous to allow the sport’s officials to continue the tradition of making referees unaccountable, petty tyrants with absolute authority over a match. Without supervision by the league and governing bodies of the sport, without accountability to replays rolling in plain sight, soccer/football the world over will remain overly susceptible to corruption and incompetence. It may have made sense 40 to 50 years ago, but it’s time to reconsider that strategy.

Without changes to this regime, soccer/football remains incapable of creating a fair standard in its officiating. If it can’t work at the highest level of the sport, it’s unfair to expect that lower level leagues and youth programs will ever improve either. FIFA, the sport’s governing body, remains intransigent in its opposition to adopting new technology. Without this advance, it will be incapable of preventing honest and/or inexcusable errors from determining critical matches. It’s a silly position to defend, especially when the fans in the stands and at home can watch the video immediately after that proves the referee’s mistake.

Instead of remaining a tag-a-long latecomer or waiting for the leadership of biased governing bodies, North America’s growing first tier league should take a stand on this issue. It’s time for the MLS to force the point by adding video review by MLS officials in real time. It will only make the game more popular in this part of the world. It will also make FIFA, and the traditionalist stalwarts behind its current position on changing officiating and using video reviews, face the obvious. For any call that results in a red card, a penalty shot or direct free kick within 30 yards of goal, it warrants a video review before the ball is put back into play. It’s time for change, and it will only make the game better and more competitive.

A Bitter Pill To Swallow

As for yesterday’s drama at BMO Field, there’s no satisfaction to gain from rehashing the day. Toronto FC ended up having a solid 30 minutes of the second half at even-strength, ten aside football, and the Reds still could not score. The tone of the match had long since been set, and the Referee wasn’t looking to even out mistakes made. The Kansas City Wizards’ goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen was the star performer of the day. His three critical saves on open shots on goal were the difference between the draw and the Wizards’ defeat.

For those of us watching the game, it might have been more satisfying to watch a different contest.  A better use of this referee would have been if he decided the game with the opening coin toss. Maybe rock-paper-scissors would have been more sporting. Instead, players and fans were subjected to Baldomero Toledo’s ridiculous brand of interference and stupidity. The main casualty yesterday was the fairy tale we all wanted to see, with the Reds scoring in multiples and the shot made across the bows of our Eastern Conference opponents before the World Cup break. Now, we’ll all have to wait a few weeks for the dream to begin again.

My question for the World Cup ahead: who’s watching the watchmen?

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