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MLS Cup referee assignment announced; why it’s bad news

Nov 20, 2012, 6:44 PM EDT

Petrescu

Unfortunate news for MLS Cup – and for our best chances to see an attractive match on Dec. 1 at the Home Depot Center: Silviu Petrescu has been assigned officiate the MLS Cup final: Here’s why that checks the box under “bad news” in my book:

Petrescu is probably the worst in MLS when it comes to lenient enforcement of the laws, therefore tacitly endorsing overly aggressive and physical play. He prefers to not call fouls, so games under his watch tend to get extra physical. (Probably good news for Dynamo fans, although the Galaxy have smart players who understand when matches demand a more combative approach.)

I know that not calling fouls can sound like a decent enough idea, but it’s all about judicious application.

While it’s certainly true that a wise referee understands prudently employment of his advantage clause, that’s a long way from more or less deciding that only the most flagrant kicks, trips, hacks, elbows and body blows will actually draw a whistle. And that’s Petrescu.

(And never mind that Petruscu was just named MLS Referee of the Year; that’s more or less meaningless in my book, more akin to a politically weighted “industry” award than meaningful achievement. Just my opinion.)

So games overseen by Petrescu have a higher chance of devolving into orgies of turnovers, that kind that sometimes make MLS contests so hard on the eyes (and the kind the league is working so hard to tame this year – which is why Petrsescu’s appointment here is such a head-scratcher.)

When it comes to leniency, in the wrongheaded effort to “let a game flow,” the very opposite happens. I suppose it does “flow” if your idea of flow is a helter-skelter, unrelenting series of turnovers, abetted by a referee who green lights the doctrine of tackle by collision.

I know not everyone agrees, at least not officially. MLS Director of Communications Will Kuhns, someone I highly respect, pointed out to me via Twitter than Petrescu called 26.6 fouls per game this year, above the league average of 24.6.

But stats here are meaningless minus context. When referees call fouls early, players adjust to a match where they have to actually defend rather than simply hack and head hunt.  At that point, we tend to get what many of us like to call “soccer.”  On the other hand, when matches get physical, the high-speed foul-fest is on … and referees eventually have to call fouls. Thus, the stats tend to even out.

Plus, it’s not just the fouls. It’s the thuggish violations or cynical acts of obstruction that are whistled, but really should also be booked. And it’s bookings that really should be red cards.

In fairness, Petrescu is one of the better MLS referees in his tone of communication with the players. You do generally get the feeling that he’s in control out there when blood begins boiling (which is often does … because he doesn’t call fouls and things tend to escalate). On the other hand, what good is looking the part if you let players get away with something like this?

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