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Drilling down on: at Seattle 0, Real Salt Lake 0

Oct 18, 2012, 1:00 AM EDT

Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders Getty Images

SEATTLE — How high does early sending off rank on the list of things you never want to see in a big match? Probably depends on the nature of the dismissal. What you think of Wednesday’s sending off likely determines how you feel about referee Ricardo Salazar.

Man of the Match: Seattle’s team effort was so balanced that it took over 90 minutes for a Sounder to distinguish himself, but when Real Salt Lake’s two best chances came in second half stoppage time, it was Michael Gspurning that preserved the point. A lunging stop on a late Chris Schuler drive coupled with some drama denying Jonny Steele saw Gspurning take the night’s honors.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • To Seattle fans, Salazar has become a pantomime villain, a role he carried into tonight’s came thanks to (among other incidents) his sending off of Patrick Ianni in this year’s U.S. Open Cup final. A collective social media moan could be heard when his appointment was announced earlier this week. It’s as if Sounders’ fans knew he would have a part in Wednesday’s result.
  • That part came in the 30th minute when Zach Scott took down Javier Morales just outside the of the Seattle area. It was a clumsy challenge that ended with Scott falling on top of Morales, more harmless, poorly-executed wrestling move than malicious tackle. In light of Scott’s 10th minute yellow card, the play was reckless. Scott put himself in position to be sent off, a result Salazar confirmed with a second booking.
  • The broader question: How often do you see that foul result in a dismissal? It wasn’t the harshest call you’ll see this season, but most referees would have kept the card in their pocket. While Salazar’s entitled to his decision, was it a fair call? Considering what players expect from a typical MLS match?
  • “Lord help us if we get Salazar in the playoffs,” Schmid said post-game. His halftime comments will likely earn him a fine, describing Salazar as Real Salt Lake’s 12th man.
  • Until the sending off, it had been a relatively even match. Seattle, as they’ve done previously against RSL, tried to beat Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers with long balls targeting Fredy Montero. RSL responded by patiently building through the middle, trying to pass their way through Seattle’s midfield.
  • After the red card, little changed except Seattle’s defense, which naturally became more compact and less aggressive. Brad Evans, who was forced into a start at right back, had to play the rest of the night in the middle, Schmid sacrificing Sammy Ochoa to bring Mike Seamon on at right.
  • Despite the changes, the Sounders still had success targeting Montero, while RSL was unable to tap their way through Seattle’s defense.
  • The final part of the match saw the game fall into a familiar, redundant pattern. RSL would pass their way to the edge of the Sounders’ defensive third, try to make their way through the middle only to see a Seattle player break up play before Osvaldo Alonso vacuumed up the ball.
  • In that way, it was a very impressive performance from Seattle, even if Real Salt Lake made the obligatory late go of it. Up until that 92nd minute, there was little doubt Seattle would take at least a point.
  • Given the circumstances, the result is a good one for Seattle, even if the bigger picture sees it as a missed opportunity for both teams. The difference between second and third in either conference isn’t a big deal, so while the Sounders improved their chances of passing RSL in the West, the draw delivers a blow to each team’s chances of catching Sporting Kansas City for second in the overall standings.
  1. ksix1 - Oct 18, 2012 at 3:28 AM

    I was at the game. I saw the announcement before the game that Salazar was going to ref. Given the history, how anyone could think that after the game we’d be talking about anything other than him is beyond me.

    I still have not yet seen replays of the hand ball in the box. From where I was sitting, it sure looked equally questionable to the hand ball that none other than Zach Scott was call for in the USOC final by Salazar. This hand ball resulted in KC’s only goal on the PK. Scott then repented 3 minutes later with the tying goal sending it to over time and the farce of Salazar managing a PK shootout.

    Isn’t US Soccer responsible for making ref assignments? Are they just sitting at their desks giggling as they cruelly toy with Seattle like this.

    I don’t know if it was audible on the broadcast but Salazar was booed at several points and the chant “Salazar sucks” rang out a couple of times. Probably not a highlight in the man’s ref’ing career.

    Salazar continues an embarrassment to US Soccer. He needs to move on to the next opportunity in his life. This ref thing just isn’t working out for him.

    • wesbadia - Oct 18, 2012 at 9:26 AM

      You may have watched the game live, but I watched the televised version which afforded me the opportunity to see instant replays from five different angles. The “handball” was no such thing. Beltran’s arm was tucked into his body across his torso. The ball clearly hits his arm, but this does not fall under the definition of “handball” in FIFA’s rulebook. Had Beltran’s arm not been there, the ball would’ve hit his stomach/chest area and bounced off in the same way. The only times a handball should be called, according to the rules, is when it’s held in an “unnatural” position away from the body, or when the player intentionally tries to handle the ball. Neither was the case last night.

      I get that people are up in arms over it, especially if they’ve only seen it live and no video evidence supporting their claim exists, but ask anyone watching the NBCSN game last night and they’ll say the exact same thing I said. Hell, even Kasey Keller said it.

      • ksix1 - Oct 18, 2012 at 11:36 AM

        First, Salazar is not above calling a weak handball in the box. We learned that in the USOC final. In the run of play it looked pretty questionable.

        Second, how about that last defender “yellow” on Schuler? Pretty sure that was a gift, because if we’re going by the rules that should have been a straight red. He was the last defender and he denied a clear chance on goal.

        And third, my thoughts are summed up pretty well with this quote from Sigi last night after the game: “…the thing is, our fans know his name. I don’t think many fans know the name of the referee. I think that’s an indication.”

      • ravegreenstreet - Oct 22, 2012 at 5:28 PM

        wesbadia, most Sounders fans would agree with you that the handball on Beltran should not have been called in normal circumstances. However, this very same referee called a PK on the Sounders in the USOC final in the exact same situation. Zach Scott’s arm was completely tucked into his body and the ball hit it; the exact same situation as Beltran. But since it happened to a team not named the Sounders, he makes the correct call and play continues. THAT’S why Sounders fans are so upset about that call and upset about Salazar. Those types of calls ALWAYS go against us when he is in charge, but when it happens to the other teams then it’s no issue.

      • wesbadia - Oct 23, 2012 at 9:15 AM

        @ravegreenstreet: So the rational form of action to Sounders fans is to appeal for a handball on Beltran despite knowing that it wasn’t a handball at all? Listen, go ahead and take your frustration out on Salazar. He deserves it for not consistently calling these sorts of things (and a certain amount needs to be placed on the linesmen and AR, too). But what you’re complaining about with the non-handball on Beltran is unprincipled. People seem to forget that these are two separate incidences. The lines between the two cannot be blurred, no matter how similar the two are. They are still two separate situations and need to be treated as such.

        If you’re still hung up on the bad call on Scott from the USOC final (and you have every right to be), that’s fine. All I’m asking for is principle. Stick to defending the rules and labeling those responsible for not upholding those rules as incompetent. But don’t wish punishment on another team just because you hold a grudge about something unrelated. If you want the game called properly, then applaud Salazar for getting this one right.

    • wesbadia - Oct 18, 2012 at 11:43 AM

      The point I raised was about the supposed handball on Beltran. Nothing else. I do not (and did not) question Salazar’s competency, or rather incompetency, in reffing most of his games. He’s costed RSL and many other teams during matches as well. It has nothing to do with the Schuler incident, just the “handball”.

      Provided you find video of it, I’m sure you’ll agree with my and others’ assessments of the situation.

  2. zoophagous - Oct 18, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    I was at the match.

    The handball without the benefit of replay during the run of play looked like a clear cut hand ball. When I got home and watched the match off my DVR it was the right no call.

    Having said that if a ref is going to send off a player on one team for two soft yellows as Salazar did with Scott then surely Schuler earned a straight red. Denied a clear goal scoring opportunity. If a ref is going to call it close call it close for both teams. Not just one.

    There was a a tackle on Alonso from behind that didn’t get the ball – didn’t catch who did it – that was no less clumsy or aggressive than the tackle that earned Scott his yellows. But there was no call. Shortly after that was when the “Salazar sucks” chant started.

    Sigi is right – if the entire stadium is chanting the refs name he is a failure as a ref. I have been a STH holder for the Sounders for several years. Last night was the first time there has been a stadium wide chant directed at the ref. It actually grew louder after the match finished.

  3. Dan Haug - Oct 18, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    There are a number of teams in MLS that play a very physical game. Seattle and KC are two who are the best at it (although RSL can mix it up with the best of them as well). They really get as close to the line as possible. When you play the game that way, you expose yourself much more to the variability in reffing styles. That’s just the way it goes. If you look at the USMNT in international tournaments we ran into the same problem.

    As MLS refs go, Salazar is no worse than most, and better than many. Sigi calling him our by name is completely unprofessional, and stupid. 1. Sigi will be fined. 2. Salazar will be reffing future Seattle matches. Do you really think this is going to make him more likely to give Seattle the benefit of the doubt?

    I’ve seen all the calls that people complain about… and none of them are agregious. Save the complaining for when there is a real travesty, and your more likely to get support from the league.

    • wesbadia - Oct 18, 2012 at 3:59 PM

      This is spot on. And it can be expanded into CCL play, as well, which RSL has felt the blunt end of discipline so far this CCL cycle, with Borchers, Beckerman, and Wingert all missing games due to red cards. The situation with Borchers is the one that sticks out most in my mind because it was the result of a clumsy touch that put the ball out too far ahead of the defender, which caused him to lunge dangerously at the opposing player. No one from RSL defended it. Borchers himself admitted that the tackle was reckless.

      And herein lies the real problem with the American style of “brutal, physical” soccer: too often physicality in play is an excuse that masks over the fact that most Americans who play the game don’t lack the finesse and technical ability to control the ball (or even defend) in a way that allows them to avoid these reckless instances. If American’s were technically proficient on the ball as well as defending (ie, footwork, agility, etc), we’d see a severely sudden drop in the number of disciplinary measures taken by officials both domestically and in international matches.

      Scott’s tackles last night at clearly because he’s playing at a level higher than his ability. And, I’d wager, most players who can be considered “overly physical” in MLS are doing the same. When you have a league with too many of these types of players, you have the situation with officiating that we currently have.

      • wesbadia - Oct 18, 2012 at 4:01 PM

        Edit: the line should read “most Americans who play the game lack the finesse and technical…”. Apologies.

      • zoophagous - Oct 18, 2012 at 4:28 PM

        Again it’s not that Salazar called the fouls on Scott – it’s that he didn’t call similar fouls against RSL. He was not consistent.

      • wesbadia - Oct 18, 2012 at 4:52 PM

        Of course he wasn’t consistent. But again, as with my first comment above, the issue I raise isn’t about Salazar. This time it’s about the play of American players in general.

        If you want me to address Salazar directly, then here it is: Salazar, like most refs in MLS, lack perspective in games. I say that because of how often their consistency is called into question. It’s apparent that most MLS refs have a very broad range of responses to similar situations. This is observed fact. The issue that I see, however, stems from this physical style of play in the American version of the sport. When a large number of players have this style, instances of physical play (and thus reckless actions) rise. And with this rise in reckless actions, there is a skew that happens with the perspective of officials to actions across the board.

        What I mean is that when so much action is of the physical nature as opposed to “finesse or technical” nature, the broadness those actions fill is rather narrow in comparison to other leagues. This narrow band of action leads referees to be more consistent because, really, what are they left to use as perspective on what is “reckless” and what is not if so much action that they see could be considered reckless? True, if officials “took a firm stand” on this type of play across the board that there would be a downturn in that play. But how long would it take? And how many games would we see played by two teams being short-handed for an hour? And how many suspension-games would be handed out? And how many unintended consequences would we see from it?

        That’s the problem with a heavy hand in this situation. If the hammer drops too quickly, the fan, player, and club reactions will be detrimental to the league. If it drops too slowly, fans will continue to bicker and whine just like everyone is now. There needs to be a moderated approach that eases into the ideal state of consistent officiating and proper ruling.

        Is Salazar inconsistent? Hell yes. But I’d challenge anyone to referee a game consistently when so much of the play is garbage physicality. It’s damned near impossible.

      • wesbadia - Oct 18, 2012 at 4:55 PM

        Typo again: “leads more referees to be INCONSISTENT”

    • ravegreenstreet - Oct 22, 2012 at 5:22 PM

      Dan, I have no idea where you get the idea that Seattle is a very physical team… let alone the fact that they’re very good at it. The Sounders have to be one of the smaller teams in MLS. I think our biggest guy on the field (besides Gspurning) is Parke who is only 6’1. I’d say Alonso is our only very physical player, but for the most part he’s very clean and efficient doing it. KC and SJ are the most physical, and best at it. Definitely not Seattle. The Sounders are far more about finesse and style than brute force and speed.

      • wesbadia - Oct 23, 2012 at 9:21 AM

        I’d agree they’re about finesse and style, but to say they’re not physical is absurd. One doesn’t have to be good or bad at being physical to be physical. Nor do they need to be “brutes” about their physicality. All that’s needed is to be physical. It’s a priori.

        Alonso is by far the most physical on the team, clean or not. But Scott proved that clumsiness can be physical as well as costly. EJ and Montero are far from being “clean” about things, regularly lashing out at players off the ball and/or during stoppage… and equally good opportunity to be physical. Seattle’s back line has also been known to get a bit feisty and reckless at times, and not just this year.

        The only two players that I would agree are purely about finesse and style are Rosales and Tiffert, both of whom bring much to the team. Please don’t delude yourself with the play of those two players. Seattle is no SJ or KC, but they’re no Barcelona either. They plainly fit the bill for the American soccer stereotype.

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