MLS Cup referee assignment announced; why it’s bad news


Unfortunate news for MLS Cup – and for our best chances to see an attractive match on Dec. 1 at the Home Depot Center: Silviu Petrescu has been assigned officiate the MLS Cup final: Here’s why that checks the box under “bad news” in my book:

Petrescu is probably the worst in MLS when it comes to lenient enforcement of the laws, therefore tacitly endorsing overly aggressive and physical play. He prefers to not call fouls, so games under his watch tend to get extra physical. (Probably good news for Dynamo fans, although the Galaxy have smart players who understand when matches demand a more combative approach.)

I know that not calling fouls can sound like a decent enough idea, but it’s all about judicious application.

While it’s certainly true that a wise referee understands prudently employment of his advantage clause, that’s a long way from more or less deciding that only the most flagrant kicks, trips, hacks, elbows and body blows will actually draw a whistle. And that’s Petrescu.

(And never mind that Petruscu was just named MLS Referee of the Year; that’s more or less meaningless in my book, more akin to a politically weighted “industry” award than meaningful achievement. Just my opinion.)

So games overseen by Petrescu have a higher chance of devolving into orgies of turnovers, that kind that sometimes make MLS contests so hard on the eyes (and the kind the league is working so hard to tame this year – which is why Petrsescu’s appointment here is such a head-scratcher.)

When it comes to leniency, in the wrongheaded effort to “let a game flow,” the very opposite happens. I suppose it does “flow” if your idea of flow is a helter-skelter, unrelenting series of turnovers, abetted by a referee who green lights the doctrine of tackle by collision.

I know not everyone agrees, at least not officially. MLS Director of Communications Will Kuhns, someone I highly respect, pointed out to me via Twitter than Petrescu called 26.6 fouls per game this year, above the league average of 24.6.

But stats here are meaningless minus context. When referees call fouls early, players adjust to a match where they have to actually defend rather than simply hack and head hunt.  At that point, we tend to get what many of us like to call “soccer.”  On the other hand, when matches get physical, the high-speed foul-fest is on … and referees eventually have to call fouls. Thus, the stats tend to even out.

Plus, it’s not just the fouls. It’s the thuggish violations or cynical acts of obstruction that are whistled, but really should also be booked. And it’s bookings that really should be red cards.

In fairness, Petrescu is one of the better MLS referees in his tone of communication with the players. You do generally get the feeling that he’s in control out there when blood begins boiling (which is often does … because he doesn’t call fouls and things tend to escalate). On the other hand, what good is looking the part if you let players get away with something like this?


Pochettino trolling? “You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team”

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur huffed and puffed at White Hart Lane on Sunday but never really got going as they settled for a point at White Hart Lane.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Harry Kane forced Asmir Begovic into two good saves in the first half and Song Hueng-min should’ve scored in the second half with a header but even after after a grueling 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan on Thursday night for Europa League action which saw them arrive back in England at 6 a.m. local time Friday, manager Mauricio Pochettino wasn’t pleased his team didn’t win to move into the top four.

“No, not really happy. We deserved more than we got, so I was disappointed, but it’s true that I’m proud of the players. For me they’re big heroes,” Pochettino told ProSoccerTalk. “The effort was massive. Chelsea played one of their best games of the season, and when you make the effort we showed and the maturity, you have to be happy with your players but disappointed with one point.”

[ MORE: Mourinho calls benched Costa “privileged” ]

With Spurs now stretching their unbeaten run to 13 games this season — their one and only defeat in 2015-16 came on the opening day of the season, 1-0 at Manchester United — Pochettino was asked if his side, who sit five points off the top, should be pleased that a draw against Chelsea felt like two points dropped.

The Argentine coach then released his inner Jose Mourinho — the pair have a close relationship and before Poch came to coach in England he spoke at length to Mourinho — dishing out a backhanded compliment to the master of the backhanded compliment.

“This is a good thing. We play the champions. It’s good. You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team and Tottenham can win every game we play,” Pochettino said. “It’s very difficult, though. Not easy. We’re the youngest team in the PL and the maturity we showed today we have shown in different games. We have to feel happy. It’s a good thing that, maybe, we are a bigger club than Chelsea or that we deserve more. We showed good performances in the last few games, and I’m happy, but we have to keep working hard. We’ve only had 14 games in the PL and it’s too early to think about the end of the season.”

Whether or not those comments were lost in translation from a man who is still getting used to English as his second language, Pochettino clearly felt Spurs deserved more than the point they got and it’s apparent from the differing predicaments both teams find themselves in that Spurs have more chance of winning the title and finishing in the top four than Chelsea this season.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Live Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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Struggling Swansea City has quite a task with its visit to high-flying Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Swansea has plenty of experience on the bench, and will start Eder and Kyle Bartley.

Daniel Sturridge is again on the bench for Liverpool, while Christian Benteke starts up top for the Reds.



Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno, Can, Milner, Lallana, Ibe, Firmino, Benteke. Subs: Bogdan, Toure, Henderson, Sturridge, Allen, Origi, Randall.

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Bartley, Williams (c), Taylor, Britton, Ki Sung-Yueng, Sigurdsson, Routledge, Ayew, Éder. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Fernandez, Cork, Grimes, Montero, Gomis.

Watch Live: Norwich City vs. Arsenal (Lineups, Live Stream)

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal and Johan Elmander of Norwich City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on May 11, 2014 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
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Norwich City faces a third UEFA Champions League side in four matches when Arsenal visits Carrow Road on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET online via Live Extra).

Arsenal starts Mathieu Flamini in place of the injured Francis Coquelin, and Olivier Giroud is again up top.

As for the home side, there’s a lot of offense on the bench including Nathan Redmond.



Norwich City: Ruddy; Wisdom, Bennett, Bassong, Olsson; Howson, Dorrans, O’Neil (c), Brady; Hoolahan; Grabban. Subs: Rudd (GK), Martin, Mbokani, Jerome, Mulumbu, Redmond, Odjidja.

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud. Subs: Ospina, Debuchy, Gabriel, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Reine-Adelaide, Campbell.

Mourinho on benching Costa: “He is very privileged”

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LONDON — Jose Mourinho defended his decision to leave Diego Costa on the bench on Sunday for Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at Tottenham Hotspur, calling the Spanish international “privileged” for keeping his spot in the Chelsea lineup this long.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Costa, 27, has scored just four goals in 17 appearances for Chelsea this season and in their midweek win at Maccabi Tel-Aviv he and Mourinho had a clear misunderstanding in the first half which saw words exchanged.

Since then, reports have claimed that Mourinho is trying to bring in a new striker in January and his benching of Costa on Sunday will add further fuel to the fire.

“Diego is very privileged because he was the last one to be on the bench,” Mourinho said. “Everyone else has been: the captain; Ivanovic, Cahill, the vice-captain of England; Fabregas; Pedro; Hazard, player of the season; Oscar; everyone was on the bench. Diego was privileged because I kept him in the team for all these matches. Today we thought the best strategy was this one. We are happy with the decision and the players. If we had won 1-0, our performance would have been considered tremendous. You will still say it was good.”

Chelsea’s boss was pushed further about Diego’s state of mind as he reportedly failed to put his boots on when warming up and then threw his warm-up bib (see the video above) in the direction of Mourinho.

“Physically he is fine. No problems. He is working well every day. His mood is positive. He’s always a positive guy in the team,” Mourinho said. “I was not expecting to have a player on the bench jumping and singing because he is not playing, unless you’re a kid who has a chance to go on the bench – Ruben, Kenedy, feel that is one more step. But for a top player, they’re not happy. His behavior was normal. He was ready to play when he went to warm up. When I decided not to play him, he went. And probably he is eating while waiting for us in the bus.”

“If he wants to hurt me, it’s not with a bib. I have a good relationship with him, no problem”

Mourinho may not feel like he has a problem right now with Costa because Eden Hazard led the line superbly in a false-nine formation.

With Loic Remy missing due to the birth of his child on Saturday, Mourinho decided to replace Costa with the diminutive Belgian and he dazzled Spurs’ backline with several intelligent runs and had Chelsea’s best two chances as he headed over in the first half and then forced Hugo Lloris into a superb stop in the second half from a controlled volley.

Costa’s benching has been coming, and although he seemed to handle it poorly on the sidelines, it’s clear that he must now shape up or Chelsea will move on without him.

“If Costa watched the game with some attention from the bench he will  know what is needed from him,” Mourinho said, ominously.