Now is not the time to rely on a crisply-officiated game. Not that any time is a great time for any club, in any league. But when points are at a premium, and the stakes are raised on weekly basis, well, it’s really not a great idea to lean on the referee to be at his best, especially if a team isn’t at its best, either.
Case in point: Saturday’s Fire-Revolution tilt at Toyota Park. A game filled with postseason implications, plenty of action and even a MLS pool keeper on hand, just for good measure.
The first half came and went with a 2-1 scoreline in favor of the guests. Up until that point, it appeared to be the kind of contest that maybe, just maybe, the Revolution could get a much-needed win out of. The kind of win that would keep them inside the playoff bubble for another week, at least.
Well, it was a optimistic thought while it lasted.
In the 50th minute, Kelyn Rowe, who scored the opening goal, placed a beautiful ball in front of Saer Sene, who then beat the Fire defense and slipped it past Sean Johnson. 3-1 Revolution? Not exactly.
The assistant referee on the bench side of the pitch raised his flag right after Rowe threaded the ball through, despite the fact that Sene was onside, which video replay confirmed. Nevertheless, the goal was disallowed, and the margin remained at one.
Five minutes after Sene’s non-goal, Patrick Nyarko played a through ball that Mike Magee ran onto before he deposited into the Revolution net. But as Nyarko’s delicate ball rolled ahead, Juan Luis Anangono, in an offside position, backtracked to shield Jose Goncalves off the ball to allow it to reach Magee. Although Anangono affected the play from an offside position, the goal stood, and it would be the strike on which the Fire would later build the lead they’d need to claim all three points.
Two tough calls on two critical plays. And when it was all said and done, the Revolution walked out of Toyota Park with nary a point in their pocket.
But here’s thing: referees don’t cost clubs points. Clubs cost themselves points. And that’s the hard truth about Saturday’s loss.
Sure, it’s easy to cast blame on the officiating for what happened on Saturday. One assistant referee blew it on Sene’s 50th minute strike, and the other allowed Magee’s 55th minute tally to stand despite Anangono’s offside meddling. We can hypothesize all we want about how those calls change the game, but the assistant referees aren’t the ones who cost the Revolution the win. No, the Revolution are the only guilty party in that department. Jose Goncalves’ inability to close on Anangono in the 30th minute, Stephen McCarthy’s hesitation on Magee’s goal, Rowe’s near miss in the 83rd minute, Bobby Shuttleworth’s slow reaction on Alex’s goal – these are the real reasons why the Revolution lost, not the ARs.
Six games remain in the regular season. It’s time to stop blaming the refereeing, which has helped and hurt every team at some point or another this year, for the Revolution’s shortcomings. The Seattles, Salt Lakes and Sporting Kansas Citys of the league deal with the same referees the Revolution do. Across a 34-game regular season, it all levels out, regardless of how good or poor the officiating is. There is no conspiracy. If the Revolution don’t make it to the postseason, it won’t be because of the refereeing. It’ll be because they didn’t deserve to be playing beyond October 27.
So what else did we learn from Saturday’s game besides, you know, that fact that the MLS refereeing still spikes all of our blood pressures on a regular basis?
1. Saer Sene had an impressive showing. In a sense, we’ve seen two different Saer Senes this year. The first Sene is the kind of player whose ideas out on the wing aren’t always bright, which in turn leads to questionable dribbling and, at times, head-scratching passes. This Sene was last seen on August 10 at Sporting Park, where he was a part of an offense that struggled mightily to create chances. That Sene was subsequently benched for four weeks. The other Sene, however, is the player who gets into dangerous areas, attacks space rather than trios of defenders, and helps the attack flow with smart passes and hold up play. And that was the Sene we saw on Saturday night. He linked up with Kelyn Rowe on the opening goal, and fired not one, but two goals, even if the assistant referee appeared to call the wrong player offside on his second one (maybe it was the hair?). With uncertainty surrounding Juan Agudelo’s health, the Revolution are going to need to squeeze all they can from the remaining attack-minded players. To his credit, Sene – the good Sene – answered the call, and in a big way on Saturday.
2. Someone should send out an SOS for the Bobby Shuttleworth who garnered All-Star consideration. Speaking of two different versions of the same player, it appeared the mistake-prone Shuttleworth reclaimed his spot between the sticks on Saturday instead of the mistake-free Shuttleworth that, at midseason, was ranked 12th among all MLS players on the Castrol Index. With Matt Reis serving his red card suspension, Shuttleworth had the chance (however small) to reclaim the starting job he lost on that fateful night in Kansas City. But that chance came and went within a span of 90 minutes. Not only did he struggle to link with his defenders (50 percent pass success), but he seemed to lack the confidence he carried earlier this season. Of course, the icing on the cake was his inability to do anything on a minute long distance blast (stop me if you’ve read this before), this one coming from late-game substitute Alex. Yes, the entire defense could’ve played better. But because the mistake-prone Shuttleworth showed up, it looks like Reis will resume his duties through the rest of the season.
3. Juan Agudelo is nowhere near 100 percent. It wasn’t surprising to see the calls for the 20-year-old striker on Twitter after Magee’s equalizer in the 55th minute. After all, this was a classic all-hands-on deck type of game, and the sense was that, heck, if he could travel, he could play. He may have traveled, sure, but it wasn’t hard to see that Agudelo was a shadow of himself when he came on in the 71st minute. His pace was nowhere near what it usually is, and he struggled to pop off shots, as the only two he collected were almost immediately walled by Fire defenders. True, his first touch and hold up play were still evident. And to be fair, his presence certainly helped the attack between in his first 10 minutes on the pitch. But putting Agudelo in was a dicey move – a move that could’ve seen Agudelo injure himself further. The soccer gods may not have smiled upon the Revolution in the refereeing department, but they certainly did in the sense that Agudelo stayed out of harm’s way.
4. The Revolution are going to need its defense to return to its early season form. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Revolution’s recent slide has been its suddenly sloppy defense. In Toronto, against one of the worst offenses in the conference, the Revolution coughed up an ugly goal right before halftime, and let another fall through before referee Fotis Bozakos bailed them out when he called a ticky-tack foul on Steven Caldwell as he headed it past Reis late in the game. Eight days later, they allowed four goals, two of which came from the spot thanks to porous defending that forced the fouls. Then, on Saturday, the Revolution leaked through three goals, all of which could’ve been avoided by a smarter, more disciplined side. True, the officiating may have let the Revolution down on Mike Magee’s goal. At the same time, though, Saturday’s game should be a wake-up call: this Revolution team is going nowhere until its defense improves considerably.
5. If the Revolution don’t make it to the postseason, it won’t be Kelyn Rowe’s fault. Around this time last year, the 2012 third overall pick in the midst of hitting the dreaded rookie wall. Yes, he flashed the potential that warranted a top five pick. But after a trying summer, Rowe was nowhere close to the player the Revolution had hoped he’d be down the stretch. Boy, what a different a year makes. After realizing how important conditioning was at the pro level, Rowe worked his tail off to avoid a repeat of last season. And, wouldn’t you know, he’s now the player Jay Heaps and Mike Burns envisioned when they tabbed him as their third pick. His five goals in his last five have shown that the 21-year-old midfielder is at peak form, and not a moment too soon. Unfortunately for the Revolution, they haven’t been able to convert from Rowe’s red-hot form into bigger gains.