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New England deserved another red card

Bruce Arena complained about the ref in New York City FC’s 4-2 win, but his undisciplined players were simply held accountable for their actions

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MLS: New England Revolution at New York City FC
Gabriel Pereira got the goal, and Tommy Mac got away with murder.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In the greatest sour grapes press conferences so far this season, New England Revolution head coach Bruce Arena rattled off a list of complaints after his team lost to New York City FC at Yankee Stadium. Arena didn't like the conditions of the field, the time of the game, the sunshine, the temperature. But mostly, he didn't like the refereeing.

“Somebody owes our players and coaches an apology,” Arena said. “I’m waiting to hear that.”

Specifically, he’s waiting to hear an apology for the three penalties called against New England, an MLS record (or, as put it, “PK hat trick!”), never mind that another penalty coulda, shoulda been awarded for a handball. By being called for so many key fouls, his reasoning went, the Revolution were unfairly penalized. That's a logical fallacy. Referee Timothy Ford didn’t blow the whistle that many times because he was playing favorites, it’s because New England were committing that many fouls.

Actually, there’s an argument to be made that New England committed so many significant fouls that Ford couldn’t keep up.

To make this case, we’re not going to look at that penalty box handball. Instead, we’re going to revisit the brilliant work of art that was the goal Gabriel Pereira scored in the 49th minute, and how in the split second after the ball left his foot New England’s Thomas McNamara came in with a hard flying tackle from behind that would have been a red card on any other day.

Let’s go to the tape:

First, let’s enjoy the goal. Gabriel Pereira strips the ball from Tommy Mac inside New England’s half with a long pass to Taty Castellanos that he fails to convert. But Gabriel Pereira made the run into the box, and he was there to control the rebound and cut to the right with such exquisite sharpness that he broke the ankles of goalkeeper Djordje Petrović and defender Henry Kessler before moving into open space and getting off a shot that crossed the goal and sent DeJuan Jones to the ground.

In the zeptosecond after the ball was launched we see Tommy Mac sprint into frame and leap into the ankles of Gabriel Pereira. McNamara didn't make contact with the ball because he couldn’t make contact with the ball: The ball was already gone. Instead, he clattered into Gabriel Pereira’s feet, sending him into the air and onto his side. It was aggressive, and the only reason it wasn't a red card foul was because the ball went into the net: You can’t deny a goal that was scored.

Gabriel Pereira got the goal, and Tommy Mac got away with murder.

Here it is from another angle:

The focus has been on Gabriel Pereira’s goal, and not McNamara’s late foul, which is as it should be. Better to celebrate your accomplishments than fixate on the failings of others.

But in light of Arena’s comments and the “we was robbed” chatter coming from New England fans, let’s take a moment to look at McNamara’s dangerous play, and his poor attempt to make up for losing the ball to a faster, more skillful player. He took out Gabriel Pereira for the same reason Andrew Farrell took out Talles Magno, and Kessler body-checked Taty Castellanos: They couldn't keep up. Farrell wasn't shown a red card because of some MLS conspiracy, it’s because he was too slow to mark how Castellanos moved through the box and so he gave him a shove.

Back to the red card that wasn’t: What were you thinking, Tommy? A flying tackle from behind in front of the goal? Did you really think you had a chance of getting the ball and keeping it out of the goal? Or was it an emotional response to being outplayed by a better team, a flash of anger on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? Maybe you were trying to make up for your mistake, show Arena you put in 110%, left it all on the field. It’s a good thing nobody was hurt.

Here it is again, slowed down and viewed from different vantages:

Let's acknowledge that Arena and the rest of his team are nothing if human when they criticize the ref for the same reasons that NYCFC fans are pleased with the officiating. New England lost, and they feel bad about themselves. New York City won, and they’re feeling pretty good.

But the ref didn’t orchestrate New England’s loss, and the sun didn't burn hotter on the Revolution. New England lost because they were slow and disorganized, and when they tried to cope with the speed and technical ability of New York City by committing fouls the ref called them on it.

A few years ago, a real-talk clip from Robin Van Persie made the rounds on social media. In it, Van Persie takes his son to task after complaining about a disappointing game. “You sound like a loser, you know, if you talk like this,” Van Persie said. “You’re blaming him, you’re blaming her, you’re blaming this, you’re blaming everything. I said, but I don’t hear one single thing about yourself. I said, winners take control, and they blame themselves, and look where they can improve. This is what you should be thinking about.” Van Persie continued. “You should ask yourself the question, are you a loser, or are you a winner?”

It seems that Arena didn't ask his players and coaches to take responsibility for how they performed on Saturday and “look where they can improve.” Instead, he blamed him, he blamed her, he blamed this, he blamed everything, and then he asked for an apology that will never come.

Van Persie has a word for the kind of person who approaches soccer like that.