The LA Galaxy had to face some adverse conditions in their trip to Sandy, Utah yesterday. On a night where they would most likely have huddled together for warmth, instead they had to battle gusting winds at 47 miles per hour in the hope of finding a road goal in the two legged series. For defenders like Omar Gonzalez, who faced a barrage of 16 shots, the conditions made for a miserable time.
"I think the wind was a factor," said Gonzalez. "The field played really fast. Officiating didn't help."
Head referee Silviu Petrescu only gave out four yellow cards, while blowing for fouls thirty-five times. Those calls were quite heavily weighted toward Galaxy players, who had the whistle blown on them twenty-four times. Gyasi Zardes had a goal called back for being in an offside position, while Salt Lake also had a clear goalscoring opportunity called back.
"It's just the same old story," said Gonzalez I'm going to stop talking about it, I will say maybe it's time we get a DP referee. I think that that's out of our control. I know that Salt Lake is not worrying about the referee, so we have to not worry about the referee as well. We have to worry about what we can control."
Statements criticizing referees are strongly discouraged in MLS, but Gonzalez' frustration is understandable. After missing out on the season finale due to a referee being too yellow card happy, he returned in a game where the referee didn't get control of the game in the first half and thus lost it in the second. Combine that with losing out on an away goal due to referee error and the complaints are merited.
MLS is approaching a moment where they'll have to decide how they want to operate while also undergoing a massive redistribution of talent. When MLS and US Soccer put together PRO in 2012, the aim was to raise the standard of refereeing and develop refs who could represent the US and Canada in FIFA competitions. Mark Geiger became the first American to referee a World Cup knockout match this past summer, but there's still much progress to be made.
One of PROs aims is to increase the number of full-time referees, but Gonzalez could be on to something with the DP referee idea. Bringing in referees with top level experience who can pass on their expertise to the rest of PRO could be a boon for everyone involved.
From a league perspective being proactive, rather than fining those frustrated by the referee situation, and seeking out a solution to the issue will do more to decrease these types of complaints in the future. With all that in mind, there's not much that can be done about the referees in the immediate future. The Galaxy will have to play better next weekend if they hope to advance.
"That's our effort, the way we approach the game," said Gonzalez, "our unity upon the field, and the way we move the ball and play as a unit. Those are the things for next week that we have to concentrate on and we have to remember that we're at home, so we're going to feel a lot more comfortable, the fans are going to be behind us, and it's going to be great game. Salt Lake is a great team, and they always give us a good matchup. I'm looking forward to great game next week."
It's remarkable, as MLS prepares the undergo a large talent redistribution again, that LA and RSL continue to face each other in the playoffs with several of the principles still involved. While Todd Dunivant and Ned Grabavoy didn't make it onto the field, there were still eight people who played last night involved in the 2008 MLS Cup Final. This despite three expansion drafts since that final, and all the normal attrition from MLS rosters due to the salary budget.
The roughness of the final was the tense meeting of a group of players who know each other extremely well. With so much on the line and that level of familiarity, the match needed a referee capable of keeping up with the game's flow. These are two great teams, and they deserve the chance to put on a great show.