Sigi Schmid’s halftime comments drew a few giggles from media and club officials that were amassed in the press box at Wednesday’s match. The smiles weren’t from agreement or discord with Schmid’s description of Ricardo Salazar (the night’s official) as Real Salt Lake’s 12th man. They were ironic chuckles, the kind you’d hear through the hum as a Woody Allen movie played out its farce.
We knew it was coming. The moment Salazar’s appointment was announced, Sounder fans made him the focus. Of course the calls would be the story, particularly in a match that ended 0-0. For days after the result, one in which a 10-man Sounders earned a point from Real Salt Lake, Seattle fans continue to bemoan Salazar (see comments here and here).
There’s one little problem with the complaints: Salazar wasn’t actually that bad on Wednesday. I shared my qualms with the second card on Zach Scott, but I was asking Salazar to use discretion he’s under no obligation to employ. For his part, Schmid (after the match) had no problem with the dismissal. The non-call on Tony Beltran’s first half hand ball was ultimately justified (Schmid questioned is but admitted he hadn’t seen the replay). Chris Schuler saw yellow for a second half challenge that never gets a red card (despite Sounder fans’ calls to even the teams), while Schmid’s complaints about too much time add at match’s end was another example of a coach ignoring the referee’s right to add time to the fourth official’s number.
At some point, someone needs to tell Seattle that there is no huge, green, Salazar Monster marching through Elliott Bay toward CenturyLink field. If the myth of a malevolent Salazar is more than a paranoid fabrication, we’ve yet to see proof.
Schmid, after the match on Wednesday, did make an interesting circumstantial case. All the 50-50 calls in Salazar’s games seem to go against the Sounders, Schmid noted. Undoubtedly that’s an exaggeration, but the list of memorable incidents are starting to pile up. Three calls in the U.S. Open Cup final (Patrick Ianni dismissal, late hand ball for Sporting’s equalizer, ordering a retake in the shootout), a dismissal of Fredy Montero in Portland, and Wednesday’s decisions all went against the Sounders.
Yet all of those moments were, as Schmid said, were 50-50 calls. At worst. Montero’s dismissal, the Beltran non-call – those weren’t 50-50 incidents. Those were the right calls.
It’s also unlikely Schmid or Sounders’ fans are looking for pro-Seattle calls with the same rigor. That would completely defeat the purpose. Fans are supposed to hate referees. Now Seattle have their pantomime villain, though if you’re going to collect 38,000 of your friends to chant “Salazar sucks” (or resort to an ineffectual internet petition as trite as the demonization of an official), you might want something more conclusive than wounded fandom and coin flips.
Now, as Seattle persists with a chance at the second-best record in the league (which would improve their chance to host MLS Cup), their coach has gotten himself suspended. Yet Schmid’s being defended in all mediums by a fan base that’s taking the obligatory, let’s hate one official, meme to sigh-inducing heights. Three days on, the echos of Wednesday’s chants are still registering on fan sites and social media. Even though Seattle can go second with a win over Dallas tomorrow, Wednesday continues to loop (too) large.
There’s nothing about this situation that’s fair to Salazar, who is seeing the negatives of a huge, new fan base whose loyalty seems to obligate accordance with their coach’s views. Nobody deserves to have this kind of disproportionate attention born from such inconclusive evidence.
One of two things needs to happen: Sounder fans need to become more discerning about their views, or Schmid needs to be more responsible about his comments.
That, or we can just keep erecting Salazar Monsters.