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The Referee Report: Minnesota United v Sporting Kansas City

Not many (any?) Loons fans were happy with the officiating in Saturday’s final home game, so I’m here to analyze.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

A note from the writer: This article is intended as a respectful analysis of officiating decisions from Saturday night’s match. Referees in all sports, at all levels deserve the respect of players, coaches, and fans.

This edition of the referee report may be the most-desired one yet. It will be somewhat different than the others however, in that I’ll be going over specific instances less and the broader game management more. Whether that sounds like your thing or not, this will be a look into Minnesota United’s 1-1 draw with rivals Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night.

The center official for the match was Jose Carlos Rivero, who previously officiated two other of Minnesota’s games. He is known for being willing to give out second yellow cards (which result in a red card), something the Loons would learn the hard way. Let’s start there...

Red card send-off issued to Greenspan—2nd yellow

(pardon the crappy GIF)

This is a tough play to dissect. Minnesota’s Joseph Greenspan is chasing down SKC’s Diego Rubio when Rubio goes down. It’s hard to tell—from camera angles—whether there was contact, and if there was, to what degree it was an infraction. There are both arguments for this to be the right decision made (called as a foul and yellow card, Greenspan’s second), and for this to not even be called.

Some facts to support the decision:

  • Greenspan does not make contact with the ball.
  • Rubio is a clear attacking threat at this point, and this play stops a promising attack
  • This play occurs near the edge of Minnesota’s penalty box

Like it or not, those are aspects of what happened. But at the same time,

  • Greenspan is 6’6”, and was running in close proximity to Rubio
  • Greenspan doesn’t make a tackle-like attempt at the ball, he doesn’t appear to be doing much more than chasing Rubio.
  • Greenspan puts his hands in the air just before Rubio goes down.
  • Sporting Kansas City’s players had been playing on a much slipperier, more dangerous field all game.

Neither argument presents a winning case to me. Greenspan (and any professional soccer player, for that matter) should understand the risk involved with making the play he was making. However, the guy is really tall. And nowhere in the Laws of the Game does it say that being big is a foul. Feel free to weigh in on how you would interpret this call in the comments. My verdict: not enough to say the call is wrong, so I’ll go with it.

MLS: Sporting KC at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Before I move on, I’ll answer a potential question about why VAR didn’t go in effect here. Video Assistant Referees do review red cards and potential red card situations, except for second yellows. Why? Reviewing second yellows would require reviewing every yellow card/potential caution situation, which would be a waste of everyone’s time.

And now, let’s have a conversation about injury management.

There was clearly some sort of injury bug going around the Sporting Kansas City locker room before Saturday night’s game. As wrong and bad fo soccer as it is, faking an injury is a fairly reliable time-wasting strategy, and it will always be employed by somebody.

It’s up to the referee on when/whether to stop play for an injury. Most of the time, the player rolls around for a bit until a team kicks the ball out, enabling the victim to receive medical attention. Referees may stop play with a whistle if the ball is in a neutral zone with no major attacking movements from either team.

There is one notable and crucial exception to this: if it’s a head injury, there’s a lot of blood, or if a joint has been made out of a limb, play should be stopped immediately. This situation came up just before first-half stoppage time, when Latif Blessing’s head snapped back and he went down in obvious pain.

MLS: Sporting KC at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Rivero, upon seeing the look on Blessing’s face and the manner of which his head moved, stopped play. The only problem was that the Loons had embarked on a decent attacking chance. This was the right decision, based off of what Rivero could see.

He stopped play for a head injury, just like every referee from the pros down to youth soccer has been told. Watching the play again on MLS Live shows a glimpse of Blessing’s face, it didn’t look like acting. It isn’t Rivero’s fault that Blessing only needed a few moments to recover.

This leads us to the other “injuries” experienced by Kansas City in the second half. Referees should always allow players to receive medical attention, no matter if they believe the player to be faking. It is however, on the referee to make sure the player gets off the field as promptly as possible. Players can re-enter the match at the official’s discretion after leaving the field. The general procedure is to allow them back into play at the earliest lull in action.

The final whistle

The three blasts that signal the end of a match usually come at an expected time. The announced stoppage minutes have well passed, there is no imminent attack coming from either team, and both sets of players seem to be expecting it. Unfortunately, the whistle came at a time when none of those three conditions were in effect.

This screengrab was captured at the time of the final whistle. A long ball from Minnesota was finding its way over the Sporting defense to United’s attackers. The clock read just more than the mandatory seven minutes, and a potentially game-winning attack was on the way. Officials should either blow the whistle as soon as the clock reaches 97 minutes, or let the attack end.

Agree with the points above? Have any other situations you want analyzed or other questions? Let me know in the comments section and I’ll do my best to get to them as soon as I can.