Ricardo Salazar has been roundly condemned over his non-call following Houston Dynamo defender Andre Hainault’s collision with D.C. United’s Raphael Augusto in the closing seconds of first-half injury time during the first leg of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference Final last Sunday.
Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner, for example, described Salazar’s decision as a “colossal error” following Hainault’s “comprehensively clumsy assault” that was “as poor a challenge as you’ll ever see.” Gardner praised the official to the heavens less than a month ago for his early ejection of Seattle Sounders’ Zach Scott in a regular-season game against Real Salt Lake. Now he seems content to throw the referee under a bus for not brandishing his red card at Hainault following an incredibly difficult challenge to judge with 100 percent conviction.
Salazar deserves great credit for his honesty in explaining why he didn’t blow his whistle as Augusto looked set to race clear on Tally Hall’s goal with D.C. already holding a 1-0 lead. Salazar could not possibly call a foul and dismiss Hainault unless he was absolutely certain that an offense had been committed. Countless viewing of the replay fails to provide a conclusive answer.
“I judged this play as two guys coming together and no offense was spotted,” said Salazar in a written statement. “Based on my angle there was contact by both players and therefore no offense was identified.”
It’s hard not to disagree with the official. Take a close look at the footage again. Augusto’s right arm is already positioned underneath Hainault’s left arm at the moment the D.C. United debutant shoulders the Canadian defender out of his path. There is no foul by Augusto. Hainault has made no attempt to grab Augusto’s arm. Legitimate contact is made with the shoulder and the Brazilian won the physical battle, knocking Hainault off balance and careering toward the turf.
Here’s the unfortunate part for Augusto and D.C. United. His arm remained trapped beneath Hainault’s left arm, causing him to tumble along with the Dynamo center-back. Any contact with the legs seems purely accidental as Hainault has little control during his fall. Hainault’s outstretched left arm also cushions his landing – something that wouldn’t have been possible if he’d grabbed Augusto’s arm to haul him down.
Salazar didn’t see any of that. He couldn’t have done from his excellent unobstructed position 20 yards behind the incident. What he did see was two players coming together and tumbling to the ground while tussling for the ball. It’s also worth noting that none of the D.C. United players in close proximity continued their appeals once Salazar waved play on.
United head coach Ben Olsen’s protestations that it was a clear red card offense by Hainault can be discounted. The majority of coaches in the same situation would make the same plea. Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear’s diplomatic words to MLSsoccer.com’s ExtraTime Radio podcast on Monday can also be downplayed.
“If it was called a foul and a red card, I wouldn’t have complained one bit,” Kinnear said. It’s an easier statement to make after Houston scored three unanswered second-half goals than it would have been had Hainault been dismissed and D.C. picked up the win.
Viewers of Sunday’s live NBC broadcast of the game weren’t helped by touchline analyst Kyle Martino’s initial reaction to the incident.
“Shoulder to shoulder, that’s a red card,” thundered Martino before a replay had been shown. Martino was standing at his podium behind the team benches, some 50 yards away from the collision, watching the same in-game footage on his monitor that television viewers were watching live.
“They dodged a bullet there,” continued Martino before suggesting that it was a red card offense 100 times out of 100. Well, obviously it wasn’t otherwise Salazar would have ordered Hainault from the field.
Martino was an intelligent, technically gifted midfielder during his playing days with Columbus Crew and Los Angeles Galaxy. He is capable of delivering insightful analysis during the course of games. Where he suffers is that his closeness to some current players and coaches impinges upon his objectivity. Olsen is a good friend of Martino’s, the analyst told us during Sunday’s second half while revealing nothing that the viewer couldn’t already have deciphered.
Lost amid the furor is that D.C. United lost Sunday’s game because the defense switched off as Houston took a quick free kick. They lost because they allowed their center-backs to be pulled out of position by Houston’s wide runs. They lost because they missed an easy clearance on a corner kick.
“I think all three goals were preventable,” Olsen said. D.C.’s failure to defend properly had nothing to do with Ricardo Salazar.