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Was the critical refereeing moment Sunday in Houston really such an egregious mistake?

Nov 12, 2012, 2:20 PM EDT

DC United v Houston Dynamo - Eastern Conference Championship - Leg 1 Getty Images

Ricardo Salazar’s choice to let Andrew Hainault slide on yesterday’s MLS referee kerfuffle du jour had D.C. United fans seeing red – over the lack of red, that is.

“Oh, the injustice!”

The loudest media voices worked as an accelerant. “Clear red card” was the consensus, and there certainly is a compelling argument to be made.

Written responses from Salazar to a pool reporter’s questions were standard-level opaque; it really didn’t serve to move the debate anywhere.

But I’m going to add a little more nuance here (and probably stinging comments from D.C. United supporters):

I’m not so convinced Salazar got it so wildly wrong. At very least, I can strongly suggest the choice was not as clear cut as everyone wants to make it. This is in direct conflict with voices in the game I greatly respect, like NBC colleague Kyle Martino, whose analysis throughout 2012 has generally fallen been somewhere between “sharp” and “unimpeachable.”

But I think in this case, “clear red,” just got caught in the echo chamber, gaining its own greater velocity and energy.

Here’s what I saw (the video is below, if you haven’t seen the incident in question):

United’s Raphael Augusto fouls Hainault first. No, it’s not much, but it’s probably a foul. Does that 100 percent mitigate Hainault’s clear take-down from there? Probably not … but it adds another layer into this giant lasagna of a choice.

Either way, I see two defenders who are converging. Would they get to Augusto before he could put something on target toward Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall? Impossible to say. But again, I see some enough doubt here that a red card might have been the wrong call – even more wrong than a non-call if you’re convinced there was a flagrant foul from Hainault (pictured above tussling with United’s Lionard Pajoy).

What I saw was yellow card and a free kick. In my mind, it would have been the fair and reasonable choice for all.

Salazar had a bad game; I am clearly on record on that one. But I just don’t think this particular decision to be as egregiously poor as everyone seems intent on declaring. D.C. United’s over-the-top protests added to the lantern-and-pitchfork consternation, by the way, and that should be considered in all this.

One more thing to say about all this:

In the night’s second match, Seattle defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado tripped up Landon Donovan as the Galaxy attacker tore in toward Sounders goal. Watch the sequence and decide for yourself, based on the positioning of other defenders, if Donovan wasn’t denied a clear goal scoring opportunity every bit as much as Augusto?

The difference: announcers on site didn’t immediately proclaim a mistake was made, so the hue and cry never took lift off – and therefore never achieved the same critical mass.

Well, that and the fact that Los Angeles ruled the night anyway, I suppose.


  1. term3186 - Nov 12, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    The analysis of this play is rather simple, and I don’t quite understand why people don’t understand it. Lets be quite clear. Did Hainult foul Augusto? Absoultely. It was a heavy takedown that is deserving of a yellow no matter where it happens on the field (arm pull followed by a scissor kick). Was it a red card? Quite honestly it’s debatable, and I don’t think there is a clear cut answer. It could easily go either way. Depends on the referee. Could a streaking (Ashe I believe it was) defender have challenged Augusto if he had managed to avoid the tussle? Who knows.

    All that being said, should Salazar blown for a DC free kick and given Hainult a card? ABSOLUTELY NOT. The salient point here is that AUGUSTO FOULS HAINULT FIRST. Hainult never has to resort to a desperation takedown if Augusto doesn’t foul him. There is no way that Hainult is going to lean on the referee to blow that initial foul, so he does everything he can to prevent the shot. Only two outcomes for this play. Either a HOU free kick for Augusto’s foul, or play on (since Houston recovered the ball). You cannot reward Augusto for fouling Hainult. The first foul must be called. It’s not terribly complicated.

    • wfjackson3 - Nov 12, 2012 at 9:23 PM

      The problem with your analysis is that most refs don’t seem to consider the first foul (Augusto shouldering Hainault) to even be a foul. Most of them call that as nothing but physical play.

      • donjuego - Nov 12, 2012 at 10:37 PM

        I was at the game and had the same perspective that Salazar did. From that view you could clearly see Augusto initiate contact during a battle for a loose ball in which Hainault had slight position. That call could go any of three ways: Foul Augusto, foul Hainault, play on. Play on is a far more reasonable call than Salazar is being credited for.

  2. tackledummy1505 - Nov 12, 2012 at 9:01 PM

    It’s definitely a yellow, not a red though, because he wasn’t the only person between the ball and the goalie. You had two defenders well on their way to the net as well. The D.C. United player was dumb enough to try and push the guy and that’s probably why the ref didn’t call it. Just because he felt one player made a foul and the second player followed up with one, so he let them slide. Just taking the ref’s view on it.

  3. donjuego - Nov 12, 2012 at 10:42 PM

    I’ve enjoyed Kyle Martino’s analysis many times. However, he says something Sunday that seriously impugns his reputation. He said Luis Camargo was good on offense but the knock on him was defensive work and quality.


    It is exactly the opposite. Luis Camargo was a D-Mid in Brazil. In Houston Moffat had that position so Kinnear used him as an attacking CM and has been unhappy with the offensive production. He has played D-mid for the Dynamo many times in a pinch, like he did Sunday. His defensive skills and commitment has always been there.

    How Martino could get that so wrong is bewildering. It makes you start to think he does not do his homework and just repeats crap from un-knowledgeable others.

  4. chrish3k - Nov 14, 2012 at 6:20 PM


    Good luck spinning this one… I am sure you will, try.

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