Fotis Bazakos can be blamed for a number of things that went wrong on Saturday night. The Jamison Olave handball that wasn’t. The swift red card to Andy Dorman. The uncalled (and uncalled for) cleaning of Dimitry Imbongo’s clock courtesy of Luis Robles. The subtle (and uncarded) shove Thierry Henry administered on Andrew Farrell. But one thing that Bazakos shouldn’t be blamed for – at least not entirely – is the curious dismissal of Farrell from the area on the sequence that led to the Red Bulls 97th minute equalizer.
Yes, Bazakos may have lost all control of the game by the time he sent Farrell back to the technical area to get his mug attended to. But it’s also worth noting that there are acres upon acres of gray area when it comes to what a referee should do about a bloodied player.
The general rule of thumb? Well, that’s easy. A player who’s bleeding should not be allowed to continue on in a game. That’s basic common sense. And initially, that’s precisely what happened right after Farrell’s face met Matt Reis’ boot thanks to He Who Will Not Be Suspended.
After the Revolution training staff attended to the rookie right back, the fourth official allowed him back onto to the pitch. True, he may have looked like a prizefighter who just took a well-delivered left hook to the fact, but this was no a beauty pageant. It was soccer. And thus, after he was cleaned up and sent back into action, it appeared he’d be allowed to finish the game with only a minute or two left.
But as we saw, that wasn’t the case. As David Carney was getting ready to launch his free kick, Bazakos spotted Farrell, gave him a quick glance, and determined that he wasn’t patched up well enough to play. He sent the right back to the technical area. Seconds later…well, you know what happened.
Taking aside the circumstances – the forthcoming Red Bulls free kick, the fact that the Revolution were already short-handed, the Eastern Conference table, etc. - Bazakos made the right decision. He saw Farrell and decided there was no way in Hoboken that a bruised and bloodied Farrell should be on the field. In this sense, he was justified. After all, if player safety is the name of the game, then it’s always best to err on the side of caution. And that’s what Bazakos did.
True, the fourth official -Robert Sibiga – had a different viewpoint when he allowed Farrell to return after the Revolution training staff tried patch up his face. It’s clear Sibiga and Bazakos didn’t share their opinion on Farrell’s condition, especially when Bazakos saw all the scraping and clawing taking place inside the Revolution 18 prior to Carney’s kick.
You can blame Bazakos for the calls he missed, or tried to overcompensate for. Go for it. But he should not be taken to task for thinking of player safety first rather than the final score. Because even though the Revolution may have had two points ripped away from them, it’s much, much better to know that Farrell is OK.
It may be hard to separate the game from, well, whatever the heck that was during the minutes between Olave’s handball and Bazakos’ final chirps. But fear not! We looked at the tape and drew a few conclusions for you, our loyal readers, to discuss and debate.
1. It may be happening later than we expected, but Scott Caldwell might be hitting the rookie wall. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that Caldwell is just a 22-year-old rookie. Not only did he beat out veteran Clyde Simms for the starting holding mid role, but he also beat out a former EPL regular (hello, Kalifa Cisse). No doubt: it’s been quite a season for the Homegrown Player. But in the last few weeks, Caldwell’s form has taken a noticeable dip, and that was evident during Saturday’s game. For the second time in three weeks, a Caldwell gaffe directly led to an early goal for the opposition. True, it wasn’t as egregious an error as his own goal vs. D.C. three weeks ago. But unlike that contest, Caldwell struggled to recover for the mistake, as the Red Bulls dominated the first half. Sensing that Caldwell wasn’t going to turn a corner, Heaps yanked his rookie midfielder in the 56th minute. Now, it’s hard for any midfielder, whether a rookie or a seasoned pro, to assert himself against a side that’s as potent as New York. However, the 56 minutes Caldwell played on Saturday may signal that Caldwell’s mental edge is starting to dull.
2. Lost in all of the late-game controversy was the fact that Matt Reis put together a stellar game. It looked like it was going to be a very long and painful night for the veteran goalkeeper after Fabian Espindola smoked a shot past him in the 14th minute. After all, it was the kind of strike that Reis typically saves instead of escorting into the net. But Reis was up to the task on a number of occasions thereafter. He made a spectacular save on Thierry Henry in the 57th minute, and followed it up with another nice stop on Henry again in the 88th minute. Even better, he connected on 100 percent of his passes (16 for 16), something which allowed the Revolution to build from the back and finally exert some offensive pressure as the second half progressed. He might have done better to punch away David Carney’s free kick in the 97th minute, but given the numbers situation, it’s tough to judge Reis too harshly for not knocking clear across the pitch.
3. The way the midfield played only signals that the Revolution need to find a stronger option at holding midfielder this winter. It’s no secret how the Red Bulls are getting it done this season. Sure, guys like Henry, Cahill, Espindola, Dax McCarty will make it tough for any opponent to win the midfield battle. But the Revolution looked especially vulnerable as the Red Bulls charged through the middle half time and time again for over an hour. Of course, it didn’t help that Caldwell wasn’t at his strongest. But even if he was, it’s hard to imagine him putting much of a dent in the Red Bulls’ efforts. Lee Nguyen, bless his heart, also tried to disrupt them as well, but to little effect. We all know that Heaps tried to mitigate the situation – you know, the one in which Cisse failed to beat out a rookie and MLS journeyman for the 1st choice or 2nd choice D-mid spot - by going with the 4-1-4-1 to strengthen the midfield. But against strong teams late in the season, it’s becoming even more obvious: the Revolution’s top priority should make it a priority to find a strong, box-to-box ballwinner to act as both a destroyer and distributor during the offseason.
4. MLS needs to institute a firm rule about showing video replays on the scoreboard. Seconds after Bazakos pointed to the spot following a phantom handball call on Jamison Olave, the video operators at Red Bull Arena quickly cued the controversial play on the video board to satiate the rabid Red Bulls supporters. The crowd, not unexpectedly, went bananas, and justifiably so. It was an obvious blown call, and the Revolution were about to equalize from the spot. But while the replay may have been done to appease the fans, it may have also made Bazakos contemplate a makeup call. After all, this wasn’t some co-ed rec league game – this was a high-stakes affair played in front of 25,000 passionate supporters. We don’t know if Bazakos actually considered the thought of leveling the playing field after the questionable call, or whether he even saw the replay. But what we do know is this: controversial calls are not replayed at Gillette Stadium, which suggests there is no league mandate on firing up replays on questionable calls during a game in progress. It simply varies from stadium to stadium. But given the debacle that ensued after Bazakos pointed to the spot, it might be a good idea for MLS to institute a rule that officially bans video replay on controversial plays.
5. Despite the late-game shenanigans, the furious comeback should boost the Revolution’s ego going into Montreal. It may not have been the three points they needed to keep pace with the rest of the contenders in the east, but it was a performance to build on. The Espindola goal could’ve opened the floodgates, and yet, the Revolution remained resolute. They kept the Red Bulls at bay through halftime, and fought hard enough to take their first lead ever at Red Bull Arena before Cahill’s late equalizer. Had it not been for Bazakos’ decision to send Farrell to the bench, or the hours of extra stoppage time that unfolded, it could’ve very well ended 2-1 Revolution. The fact that the Revolution are disappointed not to get a win against the Red Bulls is a good thing. They took the game to the limit, and never looked back. Their mental strength was tested and, for the most part, they passed. So you can bet they’ll feel good about going into Stade Saputo on Saturday given their showing at Red Bull Arena.