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Refs denied NYCFC of two goals against D.C. United

Two botched handball calls were a significant factor in City’s scoreless draw against the Black-and-Reds

MLS: New York City FC at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For all the flak and vitriol we throw their way, referees are seldom responsible for a team’s poor performance. Because let’s face it, most (not all) bad calls happen in completely non-consequential or otherwise frivolous moments in the game where their overall impact is academic at best.

The same can almost be said for New York City FC’s circumstance this past Sunday against D.C. United.

Yes, there were two moments where better officiating could have led to City scoring two goals to give them the win and three points. But these instances could have been easily avoided had Keaton Parks scored his open net sitter in the 25th minute or had Jesus Medina pounced on his promising chance just a minute later, before any of the controversial calls we’re about to dissect occurred.

But, those chances weren’t scored. And if we are to be objective, the controversial calls from Ted Unkel and his crew must be analyzed as they played a pivotal role in what ultimately became a 0-0 draw.

The first offence came in the 44th minute.

Shortly after intercepting a ball in D.C.’s own half, Parks quickly plays the ball to NYCFC playmaker Maxi Moralez who slips striker Héber in on his first touch. The Brazilian forward has no angle for a shot so elects to square a ball to the center of the area where Alexander Ring lies in wait. Unfortunately, the cross caroms off of D.C. defender and former NYCFC backup Frederic Brillant for an apparent corner kick. However, Héber, Moralez, Jesus Medina, and Anton Tinnerholm all desperately plead to head ref Ted Unkel for a handball in the box.

Shortly afterwards, YES Network shows a replay of the purported offence. And sure enough, Héber’s cross takes a big touch off of Brillant’s left arm which is raised above his chest and hits his trailing right arm for good measure.

For about two minutes, Unkel silently consults with VAR Alan Kelly who is shown to be looking at the play. Upon checking with Kelly, Unkel elects not to check the the replay and instead instructs that NYCFC get on with their corner kick.

Bad call. Simple as that. Brillant’s double-arm block should have resulted in a penalty where NYCFC would have been given a golden chance to make up for two missed opportunity’s to get an early goal and the woeful DCU out of their defensive shell.

Nonetheless, we play on. And towards the end of the match, another controversial handball call is whistled.

In the 88th minute, Moralez distributes the ball to Taty Castellanos, who plays a nifty one-touch lob to Ring who heads it back to Taty at the top of the box. Before going to ground, the Argentinian touches the ball over to Gary Mackay-Steven. As the Scotsman evades his marker and powers a shot into the far netting, Unkel again blows his whistle and stops play. The ruling — Castellanos played the ball with his arm into Mackay-Steven’s path.

Another replay is presented, and it’s shown that Castellanos plays the ball off the top of his shoulder which is not against the Laws of the Game. The Law state that that handball stipulates a player making a play on the ball with the area below the shoulder.

Here’s the play in question.

How this is a handball and Brillant’s offence wasn’t is beyond me. Even more infuriating, why didn’t Unkel just let the play continue and make the call after it was over? The refs obviously have no problem letting a play that is obviously offside go on for an eternity — what’s different about this? If Unkel felt it was a handball, he should have let GMS score the goal, make the call, and let the VAR tell him he needs to read the rule book afterwards.

And we’re not the only ones who think this. On the latest episode of Instant Replay, both Andrew Wiebe and Charlie Davies agreed that both calls were wrong.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that referees Unkel and Kelly have been on the NYCFC shit list. Unkel was the same ref in charge when NYCFC were put down to 9 men against the New York Red Bulls in 2018 in what would ultimately be a heroic 1-1 draw. And Kelly, of course, was the man in charge for NYCFC’s #CornerGate debacle last year in another Hudson River Derby outing.