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Something Wicked…

All soccer fans, at one time or another, have had issues with referees. From the chants, “I’m blind, I’m deaf, I wanna be a ref.” to the rants on social media going off on blown calls, and even coaches and managers being fined for questioning calls or berating decisions made by refs during games to the media.  I was the last person to stand up and defend the referees, until now.

Clint Dempsey, a national team hero and one of MLS’s star players, has never been one to back down from a challenge and has had his share of controversy But on Tuesday June Under the letter of the law, this is labeled as referee assault and a mandatory 6month suspension. MLS came back with 3 games and this has set a very scary precedent!

I can’t comment on how the game was called since it wasn’t televised, nor can I say that the frustrations and anger weren’t justified. I can however express the extreme level of disappointment I feel at both Clint’s actions and MLS’s reactions to the situation. Dempsey has never been known to be the wallflower in the corner shy and unaffected by the wrongs committed against him or his team but I never expected that he would let his frustrations get the better of him to the level of committing what is textbook labeled assault. I get it, he got pissed! As a player or a fan, at some point, we’ve all been wronged. Not one person can honestly say that they haven’t wanted to react to the referees’ bad call or missed calls,

As wrong as a referee’s call may have been and as bad a job as they may have done, there is no situation where it’s acceptable to lay hands on them. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard, especially in today’s time where there are cameras everywhere and social media brings even the smallest infractions to the forefront and anything can go viral in an instant! The most recent campaign from MLS is Don’t Cross The Line and Respect but when the biggest star in MLS gets a for assault of a referee that is clearly crossing the line and respect goes out the because MLS has just set a precedent that allows players to not only disrespect but physically attack the referees.

I worry for the future of the sport I love, I worry for the safety of the players and staff, and mostly I worry for the children who see these actions and thinks that it’s OK to become a bully! The reality is that’s what Clint has become. Those children who idolize him and the sport now think that this is acceptable behavior and that’s truly terrifying.

Refs Gone Wild

The accountability of a Referee

It’s well known to any soccer aficionado that the central referee has all the power.

  • They make the calls, or choose not to make calls
  • They issue disciplinary action
  • They decide whether or not to accept their assistant referees’ calls.

It is not an easy job, there’s no disputing that. They have to be in excellent physical condition running the whole of the pitch for 90 plus and it’s a thankless job to say the least when they get it right.

But what about when they get it wrong?

At a recent game I attended I witnessed some very bad calls and it got me thinking, are the refs being held accountable and to what extent?

The Houston Dynamo faced FC Dallas Saturday, April 5 at BBVA Compass Stadium, a rivalry as big as the state of Texas. Ask any Dynamo fan and they’ll happily give you the low down on the big D. A long standing rivalry, they play for pride and a cannon named El Capitan. The Dynamo at one point even commissioning a billboard sign just inside Dallas city limits with a picture of the MLS cup with the phrase: Houston, 2 times better than Dallas.

The 1st official or main referee was Ricardo Salazar a referee known for causing controversy on a good day and downright altering the outcome of games in other instances. During the August U.S. Open cup final where Sporting Kansas City faced The Seattle Sounders, he handed out 6 yellow cards and one red card to Seattle and didn’t issue a single card to KC for what were widely viewed as similar and possibly worse fouls committed by Sporting KC. There is even an imitation twitter page that was started called @RedCardoSalazar to parody Referee Salazar for his love of wrongful Red Cards.

The game had just begun and the opposing team had control of the ball. After a great pass to the opposing forward, who was preparing to take a shot, a defender made an amazing sliding tackle winning the ball in the opposing box that brought me and the rest of the crowd to our feet. He managed to pass the ball to the on rushing midfielder while still on the ground who crossed the ball to a waiting forward. After beating the keeper who came out too early, the only thing standing between him and the goal was a single defender. The opposing defender came to challenge him and after having the ball skillfully touched past him, the defender with few options, horse collared the forward taking him to the ground.

During what would normally be considered a last man foul that by the letter of the law results in an immediate red card dismissal, the defender kicked the forward in the head while he was still on the ground. It wasn’t clear whether or not the kick was intentional but intent aside blood was spilled and the training staff had to enter the field to attend to the injured player.

As the medical staff addressed the bloody and disheveled forward, the crowd including myself waited for disciplinary decision from the ref. He didn’t bother consulting his assistant as both teams were crowded around him, no doubt pleading their cases.

Home Field Advantage

It’s only been in the last few games that the Dash players have been signing autographs, but I have noticed that it has made a huge change in not only the visiting spectators but in the players themselves. We were notified before the WNY Flash game on the 5th that the players were going to be going around the field and signing autographs and as the final whistle blew crowds began to collect around the front rows. There were only a handful of people who remained but as promised the Dash players remained on the field. Though the game ended in a loss, the players put their happy faces on and walked the length of the sideline signing shirts and programs of everyone who stood patiently waiting. They listened as fans told them how much they were appreciated and loved regardless of losing the game and posed for pictures even taking the cameras and phones of fans to take selfies with the loyal spectators. One by one they attended to everyone who remained and as the field cleared and the stands emptied I watched the demeanor of the girls on the field change. Their spirits lifted as the love and support lingered.

The next game scheduled was against the Boston Breakers and again we were told the girls were going to stay and sign autographs. Boston took a 4th minute lead and without missing a beat the stands rallied behind the Dash with cheers of encouragement and belief. Shouts of Let’s Go Dash and Forever Orange echoed through the stadium with a few Boston Sucks thrown in and through two amazing Kealia Ohai goals and some last minute spectacular saves from goalkeeper Erin McLeod, the Dash came back to win 2-1. The final whistle blew and again the crowds began to line the front rows of the stands. The players began signing and taking pictures with their adoring fans. Even our newest player Melissa Henderson was shown love and gave it back! They addressed every last fan. After the signatures were given and the pictures were taken, the team left the field and I watched as the girls showed each other their shirts and posters giggling about which players was their favorite and a little boy held up a signed ball saying “They are all my favorite.”
Even though it’s only been two games, I’ve seen the change – not only in the fans and their support, but in the players. Knowing you have someone behind you cheering you on and telling you that it’s OK if you lose and how amazing you are when you win takes the sting out of the loss and makes the win so much sweeter. Being a fan means so much to the fan but it means everything to the players! There is a reason they call it home field advantage!

…and ticky-taca futbal is dead!

Adios Espania!!

Four years ago the world sat and watched Spain and The Netherlands play in the World Cup final. One of the talking points was the rough and tumble style that The Netherlands is known for. Nigle De Jong admitted that he expected and deserved a red card in the 28th minute for the boot to Xabi’s chest and with a second yellow in the 109th to Heitinga, the Dutch eventually did go down to ten men. With 14 yellows, nine of which were earned by the Netherlands, it was the most card heavy final ever.

The other major discussion came thanks to Spain’s style of play, the so called ticky-tacca futbal where possession was the name of the game. They would wear their opponents out running and chasing the one-two touch passes and, at least in my opinion, is the most boring style of footy imaginable.

For 110 minutes the game consisted of possession by Spain and frustration and fouling by The Netherlands till Iniesta scored with a half volley after a pass coming from Fàbregas in the 116th.

Cut to 2014, and the opening match of Group B saw Spain face The Netherlands in the rematch of the 2010 final. It began where the final left off with The Netherlands’ Stefan de Vrij giving up a penalty for a challenge on Diego Costa witch Alonso converted, but then everything changed. Robin van Persie scored a 15-yard header just before half time in Superman style fashion dubbing him the flying Dutchman and with The Netherlands retaining only 43% of the possession ended the game 5 goals to Spain’s one, the largest defeat by a champion and the worst loss Spain suffered since 1950.

Yet Spain still had a chance to get back into the fight to advance from the group. It would require them to win the game against Chile who had previously beaten Australia. The match began with Chile coming out strong scoring two goals in the first half, the game eventually ending with that score line.

Questions will be asked of Spain’s players including whether fatigue was a factor, seeing 10 of the 23 man roster very recently played in the Champions League final that was not only a physical game but lasted more than 125 minutes after a 93 minute tying goal from Real Madrid sent it into overtime. Questions will also be asked of the management staff after the first shellacking by The Dutch brought only two changes to the lineup verses Chile including not replacing an invisible Sergio Busquets and even though I don’t agree the blame of Iker Casillas in goal was a large talking point in the blogs and with the media.

So what is the take away from Spain’s performance in this world cup, individual brilliance does not a team make and ticky-taca futbal is dead.