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 based on what they saw in the moment. 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.
Many Minnesota United fans were disappointed for a second time by Nima Saghafi's officiating. Fans may remember Saghafi as the referee who sent off fullback Justin Davis in the match away to the Colorado Rapids. Saghafi did not make amends with Loons fans during Saturday night's match against Orlando City, handing out five yellow cards—all to Minnesota players. I put my USSF training to the test and attempted to set aside my bias to analyze the referee's decisions.
38' Yellow to Johan Venegas; Unsporting Behavior
This is certainly a foul, and one that needs to be called. Nima Saghafi's decision to caution Venegas for this challenge is one that can be defended, but it comes down to game management. Cautioning a player for simpler fouls such as this one can be a slippery slope, requiring a similar level of punishment for similar offenses—and that isn't maintainable. There doesn't appear to be any intent from Venegas in this, and both players are competing for the ball in similar manners. Yes, Venegas clipped the boot of the Orlando player, but a yellow card for this is awfully harsh.
66' Yellow to Sam Cronin; Unsporting Behavior
This is a clear yellow. Sam Cronin comes in to tackle the Orlando player,
misses the ball (huge thanks to PaleVermilion and robblerouser for pointing out that Cronin did make contact with the ball—I apologize for the error) and instead cleats PC's ankle. Cronin is lucky that Saghafi chose not to maintain the level of punishment he began by carding Venegas above, because he could've seen red for this.
UPDATE: Cronin has been suspended for one match and fined for this tackle, unfortunate but the correct decision.
76' Yellow to Ismalia Jome; Unsporting Behavior
A momentary lapse in coordination from Ish makes this a yellow. He gets his lead foot on the loose ball, but his trail leg takes down the Orlando player. Another clear-cut caution.
81' Yellow to Marc Burch; Time Wasting
This is a little early in the game to see a caution for time wasting. Since there is no TV footage to show, there's no way to tell how long Burch took to take the throw-in. From my vantage point, Burch wasn't taking abnormally wrong, but I can't give a definitive good/bad call on this one.
90+1' Yellow to Miguel Ibarra; Failure to Respect the Required Distance
This sequence, and the punishment given for it, completely baffles me. There is a clear foul committed by Miguel Ibarra at the beginning of the sequence called by the assistant referee, and it is deserving of a yellow card. Ibarra then stands up after the play, and attempts to stand in front of Jonathan Spector before the Orlando defender can quickly take the free kick. Spector then aggressively shoves Miguel Ibarra three (!) times, as if he is entitled to take the free kick ten yards up the field from where the foul occurred. Ibarra raises his hands while being pushed to show he is not interfering.
The mind-boggling parts of this sequence are that Spector was not disciplined and Ibarra was cautioned for not retreating. Giving Miguel Ibarra a yellow for the initial foul would be expected, not one for standing where he stood. The proper way for players to handle themselves when wishing to take a free kick quickly is not to manually remove the player blocking their path, but rather to kick the ball directly at them, so that they will be cautioned. Spector's insistence on shoving Ibarra a full three times is at least deserving of a yellow card, perhaps something even stronger.
Just to remind everyone that not all referee's exhibit poor game management, here's a gem from referee Chris Penso:
Penso used his magic spray to draw a "do not cross" line—nothing out of the ordinary, except that he did it to keep players from interfering with his conference with the AR. Pure genius.
Any analysis of official's decisions is always controversial. I want you to weigh in. What did you think of Saghafi's calls? Were mine closer to the mark? Let me know in the comments section.