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Chivas USA hard done by one of the worst MLS refereeing decisions this year

Jul 13, 2013, 9:48 AM EDT

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The backpass rule in soccer, implemented in the early 1990s to pep up the tempo of matches, is an example of where high-level legislation has definitely improved the sport. And as instances where players attempt to skirt this rule are rare, so are the whistles for alleged violations.

In most cases, defending players get the benefit of the doubt when balls come off their foot and finish in the goalkeeper’s hands, and that’s certainly the correct approach.

So why in the world referee Jorge Gonzalez would choose this moment last night in Chester, Penn., to issue the rare, indirect free kick just 8-9 yards from goal, only he could say.

But Gonzalez did, in fact, whistle for a violation of the backpass rule as Chivas USA eventually fell to Philadelphia, 3-1. Worse yet, it was late in a 1-1 match, when referees are obliged to be quite sure of any decisions that will turn a match … as this one surely did.

Watch below as Chivas USA defender Edgar Mejia slides (almost lunges, really) to challenge Philadelphia’s Conor Casey on a 50-50 ball near Chivas USA goal. The ball bounces fortuitously to goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who surely thinks nothing of picking up the slick thing.

Why would he? Who could possibly think that Mejia was actually attempting such a dicey gambit, sliding in on rain-soaked turf to play a cheeky little ball to his ‘keeper while under a serious challenge from a notorious tough tackler? It’s almost unthinkable.

Who might think so? I’ll tell you who … Jorge Gonzalez. (Ironically, this is the same referee who had a very bad day at PPL Park back in May, after which Philly manager John Hackworth had some quite candid comments on the man in the middle.)

Chivas players were so incensed that Josue Soto bumped Gonzalez and was issued a second yellow card, leaving Chivas to face the wet music a man down. A 1-1 match devolved quickly into a 3-1 loss; Philadelphia scored on the ensuing free kick and then got another late, insurance goal.

Watch the sequence in question below and see if you can spot any reason at all to make this unusual, controversial call at this time. I watched it over and over hoping to give Gonzalez a break … but I just don’t think he deserves one.

What makes this decision so egregiously awful is this: hand balls in the penalty area or balls that do/don’t cross the goal line can be missed. Those are down to angles and sight lines and sometimes involve quick calculations of intent.

In this case, Friday at PPL Park, it’s really such an easy sequence to legislate. If Gonzalez does nothing – that is, errs toward caution on making such an important call – everybody plays on. Nobody today would talk about this, because there would be absolutely nothing to discuss.

It really was a bad, bad moment for MLS refereeing.


  1. east96st - Jul 13, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    Terrible call – even if it was a dry field. Granted, it’s not in HD and there’s no slow-mo replay, but it appears more of a freak bounce back off of his cleat after Casey got a piece of the ball. That did not look like a deliberate attempt to pass the ball back to goal with his foot. Throw in a soaking wet field and ball on top of that and you don’t make that call. This is the problem across the board with soccer. There is no accountability for the officials. Everyone makes mistakes, but some guys make them only occasionally and some guys make them a LOT. Soccer – from youth leagues on up – needs to come up with a plan to deal with the guys that make them a lot.

  2. Steve Davis - Jul 13, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    Absolutely right that it’s a terrible call, even on a dry field. But the conditions should have removed all doubt … should have made this a 100 percent, no questions asked “no call.” I feel badly for the poor little Goats.

  3. sluggo271 - Jul 13, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    When I first watched this, I thought he passed it back. But after watching multiple times, no way that was a backpass. Referees do not get the benefit of watching multiple times like we do.

    • east96st - Jul 13, 2013 at 1:39 PM

      It’s true that refs do not get the benefit of watching it multiple times. But 1) he may consult with the linesmen 2) he is on the field and, clearly, is aware of the wet conditions 3) he knew, and I don’t blame him for this because no ref can be everywhere, he didn’t have a perfectly clear view of the action because of where he was positioned, so “reasonable doubt” should have entered his mind and 4) that sure looked more like a guy trying to clear the ball away from an attacking player than a pass to me the first time I saw it. If that’s your definition of a deliberate pass, I think we will have to agree to disagree.

  4. mvktr2 - Jul 13, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Wrong call or not every CUSA player not named Kennedy seemed like they were touching the ref after the call. I take it that Soto received the 2nd yellow for ref-touching rather than the back pass which doesn’t have to be a yellow iirc?

    Ultimately is this on Kennedy and not on Soto? Shouldn’t he just pound the ball out of the box at that point if there is any doubt whatsoever.

  5. Steve Davis - Jul 13, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    I see your point re Kennedy … but I just cannot put this one on him. As I said, there was no way any reasonable person would see a desperate bit of defending on a striker about to pound away from point blank range as a “pass.” Just my opinion.

  6. jrocknstuff - Jul 13, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    This kind of thing only strengthens my point that MLS officials are the worst in the world. It seems like every week they are deciding matches with awful calls. I feel like Ive seen more matches decided by the officials this season than I have the players. Over the course of the entire Barclays Premiere League season last year I could have maybe said that twice

  7. jelliot1978 - Jul 13, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    I was at the game and it was confusing as to what happened. I don’t believe the Union should have been given an indirect kick for that. Only thing I can think of is that the ball initially bounces off Kennedy towards Soto and he and Casey lunge for it and it rolls to Kennedy and it is because of the bounce off Kennedy before Soto touches it. Since 2 Chivas players touched it then the goalie picks it up is why he called it.

  8. bobinkc - Jul 14, 2013 at 5:57 PM

    Steve, I will agree that the actual penalty call probably was not a real good one. The second call, and the yellow followed by the red, was fully justified. One of the things that we drum into our kids is that, no matter how egregious the call, you do NOT backchat the ref, and you for darned sure don’t touch him!!!!! Yes, the call stunk to high heaven, but that is still NO justification for touching the ref, ganging up on the ref, or in any wise interfering with his continued officiating of the game. You have ask yourself if YOU would want to be poked at, shoved, and/or intimidated in any way for attempting to do your job. If the answer is yes, then you might want to resort to the Brazilian solution and pull a knife on the offending player(s). Of course, some of our officials could probably use a good beheading; it might just increase their ability to appropriately officiate a game. (snicker)

    • Steve Davis - Jul 15, 2013 at 12:35 PM

      No question about the justified red. Frustrating as that situation certainly was, you CANNOT put hands on the official.
      I don’t really think I said that … maybe I left the impression that the red was uncalled for, but I didn’t mean to. The “hard done by” was the silly backpass call, which did LEAD to the red. But the ejection was correct on its own merit. Or, some ejection was. It was hard to tell whose “hands on” action was worse, in all honesty.

  9. Dan Walsh - Jul 15, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    There is widespread sentiment among Union fans that Chivas was robbed on this call. Really, it was one of the worst calls I’ve seen in MLS.

  10. s63larson - Jul 15, 2013 at 4:52 PM

    Gotta wonder if the referee is on the take with that call.

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