In their third week back after a lockout, MLS referees again are the center of attention rather than the game itself. It is rare that fans prefer replacement refs to the real thing, however around MLS that is the general sentiment at the moment.
A week after referee Sorin Stoica bizarrely sent off Portland’s Michael Harrington and Dallas’ Je-Vaughn Watson, only for the league to correctly rescind those two red cards; this time it was Ricardo Salazar at work.
Salazar has a checkered past and his assignment to officiate a match generally leaves the fans of the teams involved cringing. Salazar has often made himself the center of attention by making highly questionable calls, particularly where it comes to handing out red cards. Salazar is so notorious, that there is a petition on Change.com that attempts to draw attention to the consistent controversy that follows Salazar in games that he officiates.
Salazar’s first big decision came in the 30th minute of the match when Dallas’ Mauro Diaz went down in the box in the middle of a scrum. Salazar called a penalty on the Dynamo’s Ricardo Clark, which was converted into a goal by Michel. It was a soft penalty decision which came a time when the Dynamo were outplaying Dallas.
Soft penalty decisions are hardly the monopoly of MLS refs and are not in and of themselves reason to question the capabilities of a referee. Making a horrendous decision that alters the course of a match, however, is good reason. That moment was coming.
The Dynamo recovered from the penalty and leveled the match off a Clark header from a Brad Davis free kick in the 41st minute. As before the penalty call, the Dynamo dominated the match and placed increasing pressure on FC Dallas, frequently looking like they would go ahead.
All that changed in the 60th minute of the match. A poor pass from Kofi Sarkodie sprung Fabian Castillo along the sideline, leaving Houston’s David Horst no option but to slide tackle in an attempt to knock the ball out of bounds. Horst took Castillo down instead with the type of tackle that happens a thousand times per match. It was a tackle marginally worthy of a yellow card. For inexplicable reasons, Salazar pulled a straight red and put the Dynamo down a man.
Dallas scored off a Je-Vaughn Watson header on the ensuing free kick (ironic given Watson was only playing due to his red card from a week prior being rescinded). The Dynamo then imploded, conceding twice more in the next ten minutes. Once on an own goal by Giles Barnes off a corner kick, although in truth Will Bruin deserved the blame for whiffing on his header, followed by a second goal for Watson on a break.
The Dynamo should have responded better after the red, however Salazar took a match in which the Dynamo were clearly the better team and turned it on its head with an absolutely absurd decision.
Given the controversy that continues to follow Salazar wherever he goes, it is difficult to understand how he still has a job. A good referee is one that you barely notice, Salazar is always noticeable.
The outcome of this match leaves Houston Dynamo fans, like many others around MLS, begging for the replacement refs to return.
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