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The controversial call that cost NYCFC the Hudson River Derby

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Let’s talk about it.

New York City FC v New York Red Bulls Photo by Daniela Porcelli/Getty Images

I don’t think most people saw New York City FC performing all too well against the New York Red Bulls. With the busy schedule, key injuries, and tired legs, most expected another thrashing from the red team on Sunday.

But that didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, NYCFC came out the gate with a fire and determination that nobody quite expected. And within the first 7 minutes of the game, they were up 1-0 in New Jersey over their top rivals. And it didn’t stop there, either. Throughout the entirety of first half, the Boys in Blue dominated the Blues and had several opportunities to run away with things early. The only blip came at the death of the half when City conceded a penalty, allowing NYRB to tie it. Still, things were looking good.

Then, the weird stuff began to happen.

Historically speaking, the Hudson River Derby has been synonymous with intensity, animosity, and vitriol. Despite this, however, things have never really been all that controversial with most criticisms of officiating being academic at best.

But in the 60th minute, that first bit of controversy came on what would eventually be the Red Bulls’ game-winning goal. Let’s break the entire play down to make sure everything’s clear.

We start with Marc Rzatkowski with the ball at the wing as he attempts to break City’s backline with a pass to Alex Muyl, who attempts to get in behind NYCFC defender Alexander Callens.

Callens is able to get into position and intercept the pass. Instead of attempting to clear it up field, the Peruvian defender elects to play it safe and kick it out of play. Assistant referee Corey Rockwell points to the corner to signify a corner. The camera zooms in on Callens to show that he isn’t particularly happy with the decision, but doesn’t protest all that much.

By the time the camera returns to its default angle, the Red Bulls somehow already have the ball back in play, despite no corner kick having taken place. NYCFC midfielder Keaton Parks is obviously confused as NYRB have thrown the ball in and have not taken the corner as signaled by Rockwell.

With Maxi Moralez and Parks both in a state of confusion, they make a late attempt to close down on Rzatkowski who taps it over Cristian Casseres. The Venezuelan crosses it to Daniel Royer who scores a header. The Red Bulls go up, and NYCFC — namely goalkeeper Sean Johnson, Maxi, and Keaton — go ballistic on referee Alan Kelly for not signifying a correction from a corner kick to a throw-in. Kelly dismisses their complaints before going over to consult with Rockwell. The two engage in a lengthy discussion.

After speaking for a roundabout 10 seconds or so, Kelly blows his whistle and states that the goal stands. Sean Johnson screams in anger and the complexion of the entire game changes in an instant.

FS1 then shows up a full-stop replay of the goal in question from the default television angle and this is what we see:

Rockwell clearly points to the corner flag to signify a corner kick. Then — out of nowhere and with his flag still pointed at the corner — points to the ground for a throw-in. NYCFC is setting up for a corner kick and are unaware of the correction, which has not been signified by Kelly. The Red Bulls pounce on their unsuspecting opponents and grab their much-needed goal.

First off, props to Red Bulls for taking advantage of poor officiating and communication. It worked. Nonetheless, this is still bad officiating and needs to be called as such.

If a call is corrected or otherwise reversed, it is usually the head referee’s job to make sure both teams know of this. With at least 90% (if not 100%) of NYCFC’s players being unaware of any changes made to the original call, it is obvious that Kelly and/or Rockwell failed to properly do their jobs to communicate any such change to the original call which was indeed a corner kick.

Red Bull fans can talk all the shit they want — they know that if the shoe was on the other foot, they’d be pretty livid too. This isn’t only a derby match. This was a match between two formidable Eastern Conference sides that might very well be contenders to meet in the Eastern Conference Semifinals later this year. The stakes are way too high for dumb mistakes like this. Anyone with any shred of objectivity will understand that as well.

Kelly & Co. were predictably lambasted by NYCFC players and personnel after the contest was over.

“We played a great game. It was our sixth game in two weeks and its a shame to lose the points because [referee Alan Kelly] had a horrible day today,” said team captain Alexander Ring. “I think it’s a game-deciding situation. He has to look in the mirror and be brutally honest because he cost us the points today.”

In a post-game follow-up, the officials said they didn’t use hand motions to signify the change of call and instead “indicated verbally” the change from a corner kick to a throw-in.

Ummmm... verbally!? WHAT!?

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, a football pitch is pretty big. And hand motions from referees are pretty important considering the fact that most players on the field are not within earshot of the head referee at any given moment.

What a fucking horseshit excuse. NYCFC has every right to be angry with this particular call.