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MLS Refs Aramndo Villarreal
Maybe try listening next time? | Courtesy MLS

Stop me if you heard this one before: After reviewing the tape of a New York City FC’s match, the MLS Disciplinary Committee found that the referees blew a call on game day call and have taken retroactive action against the team’s opponents. This time, the committee handed a one-game suspension and undisclosed fine to Evander, Portland’s star playmaker, for “violent conduct” in stoppage time that the MLS refs didn’t catch.

Basically, it’s a red card after the fact. But justice delayed is justice denied: Evander was allowed to play for the final tense minutes of a game that NYCFC had a chance of winning.

MLS Refs: Blown cards x 4

But that’s not the first time this season that NYCFC have been done wrong by officiating. This is the fourth example this season of a significant on-field ruling that was later corrected.

To put it in simple terms, NYCFC were denied one red and two yellow cards in their favor, and were wrongly shown one red card.

To be clear, these aren’t small officiating mistakes, but rather egregious errors. Referees are given wide latitude when it comes to interpreting the rules of the game — you’re allowed to be human. But the Evander suspension was handed down after what is colloquially known as a clear and obvious error. Or, more officially, “the Professional Referee Organization acknowledges an on-field Referee/Video Assistant Referee (VAR) error” that was “in the unanimous opinion of the Committee from all available evidence a clear and unequivocal red card.”

Let’s underscore a couple of those words. The decision must be “unanimous,” and the error must be “clear and unequivocal.”

Just 15 decisions this year

The committee doesn’t issue many statements like this one. The vast majority of the almost 90 rulings made by the MLS Disciplinary Committee so far this season address players failing to leave the field in a timely manner or taking part in mass confrontations. The committee is mostly concerned with reprimanding players for acting like little snots.

But to overrule a referee and hand down a suspension? That’s happened only five times this season.

The committee also doesn’t hand out many simulation/embellishment rulings, which are essentially fines standing in for yellow cards. There have been a total of 11 this season.

Do the math, and you’ll see that out of the 16 clear and obvious card-able offenses this season, NYCFC have been on the losing end three times. No other team has been wronged as many times. Keep in mind that these aren’t close calls, but rather the flagrant mistakes the committee overturns in order to protect “the integrity of the game.” These are the blunders that make the league look bad.

Braian Cufré red card overturned

To the tape

While it might be too much to pin a result on any of these overturned decisions, you can’t help but wonder what might have happened if referee Sergii Boiko had shown Orlando’s Arajúo a yellow card, forcing the midfielder to play the second half sitting on a caution. NYCFC went on to draw the game even in the 89th minute.

Or what might have happened if referee Armando Villarreal hadn’t put up such a spectacularly bad performance in NYCFC’s match against FC Cincinnati. The retroactive discipline against Yerson Mosquera for embellishment/simulation was for a play that took place shortly after the defender went down dramatically in his penalty box after the slightest contact from NYCFC forward Gabriel Segal drew a whistle and called off a goal that would have but New York City in the lead.

NYCFC went on to lose that game by the score of 1-3. But taking away the opening goal will go a long way to undo the momentum of a team. So will handing out a first-half yellow card that forces a player to play conservatively for the rest of the game. Cincinnati won the match, but it was decided by Villarreal.

How officiating undid NYCFC

Who cares?

So what if NYCFC have been hard-done by MLS refs time and time again this season. Who cares?

New York City fans, for one. Sometimes it feels like the officials are blowing one call after another, and it’s reassuring to take off the tinfoil cap and let facts make the argument for you.

MLS refs, for another. Ask any official, and they’ll tell you that they strive to allow a game to be fair and to flow: They don’t want to be taken for a fool by the dark arts, but they don’t want to whistle a match to death. Hopefully there are discussions taking place in the PRO Referees conference rooms about what they need to do to avoid being forced to walk back yet more significant errors.

After all, the eyes of the footballing world will be watching MLS starting later this summer, when a certain 36-year-old midfielder joins Inter Miami on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain. We’re certain that the league will want to put their professionalism on display, and show that the soccerball we play in the United States and in three cities in Canada as good – even better – as what you find elsewhere on the planet.

That means getting calls right the first time around.

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