Finnish defender Toni Stahl spent last Saturday evening repelling the increasingly menacing attacks from the New York Cosmos. His Carolina RailHawks had been reduced to nine players midway through the second half by two capricious refereeing decisions, and substitute Uriah Bentick left the field injured during stoppage time as the North American Soccer League champions stormed forward.
“We just parked the bus and hoped for the best,” a visibly drained Stahl told reporters in the media room under WakeMed Soccer Park’s main stand after Carolina dug deep to defend a 1-0 advantage.
It should not have been this way. Referee Jorge Gonzalez had derailed an engaging, attritional contest between two of the NASL’s leading teams despite the absence of any serious foul play being committed by the 22 dedicated participants.
Refereeing errors are an unavoidable component of the sport. Fans can grudgingly accept the human failings that inevitably lead to blown offside calls or misinterpretations of physical contact. Too often in North American soccer we see the same officials continuing to make calls that are beyond the realm of understanding.
Gonzalez’ latest farce – for he has previous – kicked into gear on 56 minutes when he reduced the Cosmos to 10 men. Sebastian Guenzatti flailed an arm while being sandwiched between Carolina’s Cesar Elizondo and Kupono Low that may have brushed against the latter opponent. Low sold the contact, rather pathetically, but Gonzalez was still a willing buyer.
Guenzatti was given a straight red card and Low received a yellow. Either Low deserved his caution for embellishment, in which case no action should have been taking against Guenzatti, or no card should have been issued.
The inevitable make-up call arrived seven minutes later when RailHawks right-back Connor Tobin made a sliding tackle on Ayoze. Tobin successfully steered the ball back to central defender Daniel Scott while Ayoze tripped over his grounded opponent. Gonzalez inconceivably judged this to warrant a second booking.
New York gained the numerical advantage within five minutes when Low made a last-ditch challenge on Paolo Mendes as the Cosmos substitute looked set to convert Jemal Johnson’s cross. Mendes steered the ball wide as Low careered into him from behind.
Gonzalez awarded a corner kick and then produced a second yellow card for Low.
“If a red card was given, I think it’s because there was a foul,” said Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese. “So it should have been a penalty kick.”
Savarese admitted that he replaced the yellow-carded Ayoze minutes after Low’s dismissal to guard against Gonzalez leveling the playing field at nine-a-side.
This is not a crusade against Gonzalez. He merely happened to be officiating the game attended by The Soccer Observer this past weekend. Yet he does have a noteworthy list of baffling decisions in recent months.
Chivas USA received a generous penalty from Gonzalez in April 2013 when the ball inconspicuously brushed Ned Grabavoy’s arm during a game at Real Salt Lake. He denied the Philadelphia Union a last-gasp penalty in a 2-2 tie with the Seattle Sounders two weeks later when Leonardo Gonzalez beat away Conor Casey’s strike.
Philadelphia’s rain-drenched encounter with Chivas last July descended into farce when Gonzalez awarded an indirect free-kick to the hosts after Goats goalkeeper Dan Kennedy picked up a loose ball seven yards out following a tackle. Josue Soto was dismissed for arguing with the official before Michael Farfan fired the Union into a late 2-1 lead.
“I’ve never been in this crazy a game where so many red cards are just thrown out,” said Stahl, who described the refereeing during Saturday’s game as “absolutely horrendous.”
“They were weak cards both ways,” Stahl said.
“What are you going to do?”
The RailHawks and the Cosmos should be addressing that question to the Professional Referee Organization, for Gonzalez’ performance was simply not good enough.
May 5, 2014 — Cosmos Crash In Carolina Amid Refereeing Debacle
May 3, 2014 — SLIDESHOW: Carolina RailHawks 1 New York Cosmos 0
Nov. 12, 2013 — Respect Between Senna And Savarese Provides Catalyst For Cosmos
Nov. 12, 2013 — NASL Constantly Evaluating Season Structure, Says Commissioner