Being a referee is not an easy job. I for one would never and could never do it.
It’s a ref’s job to keep order in matches, to penalize stupidity and recklessness and to maintain the flow and momentum.
It’s a thankless job that is constantly under scrutiny from fans, pundits, analysts and the like.
Everyone understands that the ref is human and that he or she can, and will, make a bad call from time to time. However, there are certain calls that have the ability to define a game, and in the rarest of cases, the ability to define a season.
Canadian Referee David Gantar made an absolutely baffling call in added time on Saturday night to deny Gilberto a goal and TFC a come from behind 2-1 victory against the Chicago Fire. Full points would have had TFC on 36 points, good for 7th in the East but within striking distance of New York, who currently sit 4th.
Lovel Palmer got Chicago on the board early in the first half off a close range header, redirecting a corner kick past Joe Bendik. Poor marking and a complete inability to defend against set pieces cost TFC. But that’s nothing new.
The match as a whole was not one of Toronto’s finest. In typical fashion, the engines weren’t running on full power until late…almost too late. Joe Bendik’s heroics to stop a penalty, then a point blank rebound off said penalty, then a volley from the top of the 18 to end the sequence deserve honorable mention, and if it hadn’t been for his stellar performance, this one wouldn’t even be up for debate.
Another disappointing performance for the sinking Reds turned into ecstasy as Toronto native and fan favourite Dwayne De Rosario got TFC back into the match with an 89th minute equalizer.
And then it all went wrong.
Carrying the momentum from a late equalizer, an incredible 40 yard looping pass into space by Michael Bradley found Gilberto, who weaved a bit of magic turning Jeff Larentowicz inside out and making Bakary Soumare look like a pylon.
Soumare, being the experienced defender he is, gained body position on Gilberto at the top of the 6 yard box. In anticipation of the goalkeeper coming out to smother the ball, Soumare slowed down his pace, while Gilberto was still battling for position.
There was no kicking of legs, or pulling of jerseys. This was a clean physical battle for position.
In a last gasp attempt, Gilberto lunged forward, without making direct or reckless contact with Soumare’s legs and without any shoving from behind. Despite Soumare flopping down to the ground like he was hit by a car, Gilberto makes complete contact with the ball, enough to push it past Sean Johnson into the back of the net, giving Toronto the lead, the win, and 3 precious points that were desperately needed.
But not so fast.
Referee David Gantar waves no goal, despite the protests of several TFC players on the pitch, namely Michael Bradley, who was captaining Toronto on the night.
But Bradley didn’t just leave it on the pitch and move on…and that’s why I’m liking him and his leadership characteristics more and more.
In a locker-room interview after the match, Bradley had this to say:
“They continue to assign Canadian referees when an American team is playing a Canadian team. Because it’s obvious that now these guys are going to make a conscious effort to show they’re not being biased one way or another. . . . I can’t understand why you’d continue to do that,” Bradley said.”
“The league can make all the excuses they want. They can say that they’re working with PRO and bringing Peter Walton in to do all this kind of stuff but at the end of the day, it’s just not even close to being good enough. Because consistently they put referees out there that are just in over their head,” fumed Bradley. “And it’s a shame, because they ruin games and totally decide the outcomes of games.”
– Quotes courtesy of Toronto Star writer Josh Rubin, Sept. 15, 2014, in his article titled, “Toronto FC: Michael Bradley’s Criticism of Officials ‘valid’, says former player”
By the way, the former player that validated Bradley’s rage filled rant in this article is Rohan Ricketts, a former EPL player.
Whether you agree with Bradley’s sentiments or not, the fact remains: a top DP, one of the most expensive in league history, is extremely frustrated by the quality of refereeing he’s seen in his first year in MLS. If the league wants to entice other top talent from across the pond to come to North America, this issue needs to be rectified, because at this point in time, I highly doubt Michael Bradley would give a glowing recommendation.
What this blown call represents is not just a huge knock to Toronto FC’s post season aspirations, but it’s another black mark on a league that aspires to be in the conversation of the best leagues in the world within the next few years.
This is not the first time a massive blown call has haunted TFC. One only needs to look back a few games for another example to reinforce this.
What I fail to understand is why, why on God’s green Earth does this consistently happen to Toronto? Does Toronto’s FO need to start issuing Balotelli “Why Always Me” t-shirts for those in attendance? It’s mindboggling.
What is required to improve the situation? I think it’s difficult to say. Would a panel of refs tasked with reviewing each match help? Well, that would only be beneficial if it’s a third-party panel of reviewers and not the same group who ref the matches…because we know how that would go…Blind leading the blind.
For the league to be seen as a credible alternative, this type of blown call needs to be eradicated, once and for all. Teams cannot be made to pay the price due to poor officiating. Moving into this next stage of growth in MLS, the Commissioner and his team need to take a long hard look at who they leave in charge of officiating, because it’s fairly obvious…they’re just not good enough.
(image courtesy of USA Today Sports)