WRITER'S NOTE: All of this analysis is easy to do with the advantage of replay and multiple camera angles. Referees at many levels of soccer do not have the aid of replay (yet?) and make the best calls off of what they saw. This article is not intended as a negative representation of any of the referees involved in the match, but rather a respectful analysis of what went into the decisions made.
Nima Saghafi's first Major League Soccer match (the fifth in his career) can only be described as eventful. Saghafi handed out six cautions and one red card. As a USSF-certified referee, I put aside my MNUFC bias to evaluate his decisions below.
41'- Misconduct to Collen Warner (MIN); Time Wasting
Saghafi is a little strict on this call, but absolutely correct. Collen Warner is booked for pulling the ball away when the referee reaches for it, a clear-cut case of time wasting. There is no reason for Warner to keep the ball from the referee (the Loons were down 1-0 in the first half at this point) so the misconduct was entirely unnecessary.
50'- Penalty awarded to Minnesota
This penalty call is on the iffy side. Was Collen Warner brought down inside the penalty area? Certainly. However, looking at the proximity between Warner and the defender it looks more likely that their legs were tangled together (notice how the defender goes to ground at the same time and raises his arm to appeal for a foul—on Warner). A case can be made for a penalty, so Nima Saghafi isn't wrong, but there is also a strong case against the PK call.
56'- Misconduct to Sam Cronin (COL); Unsporting Behavior
This is one of the simplest calls for a referee to make. Cronin goes in hard on one tackle then proceeds to come in late and fast on a second. There really isn't any room for debate on this one.
64'- Jerome Thiesson (MIN); Unsporting Behavior
Saghafi nails one again. Thiesson is clearly trying for the ball, but finds out the hard way that tackling from behind a player while sprinting down the touchline is rather difficult. A case could be made for this to be ruled a simple foul, but the effect of the foul (breaking up a promising attack for the Rapids in a later stage of the game) warrants a caution.
89'- Mekeil Williams (COL); Unsporting Behavior
This is very similar to the misconduct given to Thiesson above. Ramirez is on the attack for Minnesota when Mekeil Williams comes in late and hard to tackle Superman. It looks as if Williams may have gotten a bit of the ball, but the tackle is rough enough to warrant a yellow card.
90+4'- Bobby Shuttleworth (MIN); Time Wasting
This is so simple that it doesn't even warrant a GIF. Shuttleworth was deliberately taking too long to put the ball back in play for the sole purpose of using up stoppage time. This was by far the easiest call of the match for Nima Saghafi.
90+5'- Abu Danladi (MIN); Unsporting Behavior
Abu Danladi, the first overall pick of the MLS SuperDraft, got his debut Saturday night. He stayed mostly under the radar in his run out except for this foul with a minute left in the match. Danladi commits a clear yellow-card offense with this challenge, an unfortunate mark on his first appearance.
70'- RED CARD Justin Davis (MIN); Serious Foul Play
Two looks at the Justin Davis red card. #MNUFC #COLvMIN pic.twitter.com/94dvYNZL21— E Pluribus Loonum (@EPluribusLoonum) March 19, 2017
We've finally made it to the meaty stuff. Davis' send-off changed the course of the final 25 minutes. Sadly, Nima Saghafi got this call wrong. It was clearly a foul, and deserved a yellow card for Unsporting Behavior. Saghafi, however, isn't the referee responsible for the error. Assistant Referee Eric Weisbrod and Fourth Official Kevin Stott had much clearer views of the incident (Saghafi was properly positioned but didn't have a great view of the actual challenge). It's likely that either Weisbrod or Stott reported via radio to Saghafi that a studs-up challenge occured and Saghafi merely saw the aftermath.
It isn't hard to see that Davis' studs went firmly into Marlon Hairston's thigh, but it is also clear that Davis' boot was going for the ball when Hairston's leg intercepted it. The obvious lack of intent, paired with the unclear view that Saghafi had of the play, should have made this a caution, not a send off.
Bonus 40'- Missed Misconduct
This foul occured shortly before the Collen Warner time-wasting incident around the 40th minute. Johan Venegas is taken down viciously by Rapids' Jared Watts (#33). Watts has a clear hold on Venegas' neck, which he uses to pull the Costa Rican forward to the ground. The referee calls a foul, but a card is necessary to set the tone early in the match.
At the very least, a yellow card for Unsporting Behavior should have been issued. Even with bias set aside, this is much more serious than that. A red card for Violent Conduct would have been the proper call in this situation. The key factor between a yellow and red-card offense here is Watts' use of his arm as a weapon instead of a tool. Adding to the send-off case is the obvious contact to Venegas' neck, which is extremely dangerous. Nima Saghafi was mere yards away from the foul with a clear view. This type of dangerous play needs to be disciplined, so Colorado should have been brought down to 10 men long before the Loons were.
What are your thoughts are the discussed decisions? Fill up the comments section with respectful comments!