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Chivas USA hard done by one of the worst MLS refereeing decisions this year

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The backpass rule in soccer, implemented in the early 1990s to pep up the tempo of matches, is an example of where high-level legislation has definitely improved the sport. And as instances where players attempt to skirt this rule are rare, so are the whistles for alleged violations.

In most cases, defending players get the benefit of the doubt when balls come off their foot and finish in the goalkeeper’s hands, and that’s certainly the correct approach.

So why in the world referee Jorge Gonzalez would choose this moment last night in Chester, Penn., to issue the rare, indirect free kick just 8-9 yards from goal, only he could say.

But Gonzalez did, in fact, whistle for a violation of the backpass rule as Chivas USA eventually fell to Philadelphia, 3-1. Worse yet, it was late in a 1-1 match, when referees are obliged to be quite sure of any decisions that will turn a match … as this one surely did.

Watch below as Chivas USA defender Edgar Mejia slides (almost lunges, really) to challenge Philadelphia’s Conor Casey on a 50-50 ball near Chivas USA goal. The ball bounces fortuitously to goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who surely thinks nothing of picking up the slick thing.

Why would he? Who could possibly think that Mejia was actually attempting such a dicey gambit, sliding in on rain-soaked turf to play a cheeky little ball to his ‘keeper while under a serious challenge from a notorious tough tackler? It’s almost unthinkable.

Who might think so? I’ll tell you who … Jorge Gonzalez. (Ironically, this is the same referee who had a very bad day at PPL Park back in May, after which Philly manager John Hackworth had some quite candid comments on the man in the middle.)

Chivas players were so incensed that Josue Soto bumped Gonzalez and was issued a second yellow card, leaving Chivas to face the wet music a man down. A 1-1 match devolved quickly into a 3-1 loss; Philadelphia scored on the ensuing free kick and then got another late, insurance goal.

Watch the sequence in question below and see if you can spot any reason at all to make this unusual, controversial call at this time. I watched it over and over hoping to give Gonzalez a break … but I just don’t think he deserves one.

What makes this decision so egregiously awful is this: hand balls in the penalty area or balls that do/don’t cross the goal line can be missed. Those are down to angles and sight lines and sometimes involve quick calculations of intent.

In this case, Friday at PPL Park, it’s really such an easy sequence to legislate. If Gonzalez does nothing – that is, errs toward caution on making such an important call – everybody plays on. Nobody today would talk about this, because there would be absolutely nothing to discuss.

It really was a bad, bad moment for MLS refereeing.

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Premier League AT HALF: Arsenal fights back, Hull City on top

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (L) and Francis Coquelin of Arsenal (R) celebrate after Theo Walcott of Arsenal (not pictured) scored Arsenals first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on December 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Goals and controversial penalty decisions are a big part of Saturday morning’s quartet of Premier League matches, all of which are at the break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

Arsenal 1-1 Stoke City

Joe Allen took an elbow from Granit Xhaka inside the 18, and Lee Mason awarded a PK that Charlie Adam converted to give the visitors an early lead. But Theo Walcott scored his 100th goal as a Gunner off a classy Hector Bellerin cross to make it 1-1 before the break.

Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth

The Cherries will have to dig out of another hole this week, and it all began with Jeff Hendrick‘s phenomenal opener. Fellow Irishman Steven Ward scored an economical to goal to double the lead.

But Ryan Fraser continued his fine December with an assist on Benik Afobe‘s goal before halftime.

Hull City 1-0 Crystal Palace

Robert Snodgrass drew a penalty with a pretty easy grass grab, and the Tigers have a

Swansea City 0-0 Sunderland

Not much cooking at the Liberty Stadium.

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Koeman: “Nervous” Everton has a problem after another loss

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Ronald Koeman manager of Everton arrives prior to the Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on December 10, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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One win in 10 for Ronald Koeman‘s Everton has the Dutchman on the hot seat.

Koeman seems to be clawing for air after the Toffees’ latest setback, a 3-2 loss at Watford.

The loss puts the Hornets ahead of Everton on the PL table, and — while unlikely — it’s a mathematical possibility that the Toffees could be a bottom half team by the end of the weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

That’s a brutal development for a club expected to challenge for a European place this season.

Here’s Koeman:

“I see a lot of similar problems in the team. The team is too much reactive. Of course it’s maybe a lack of confidence, but if you start the game well, 1-0 up, you need a bigger belief in the team and not going back and defending, and nervous, and not enough ball possession. In my opinion that’s a problem.”

A big problem with that? It can be put down to the manager. Is Koeman in trouble already?

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VIDEO: Hendrick scores incredible volley from distance

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Jeff Hendrick, take a bow.

Burnley’s Republic of Ireland international midfielder pulled off a stunning piece of skill on Saturday to put the Clarets ahead against Bournemouth.

[ STREAM: Every PL game online ] 

A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.

Sensational goal from Burnley’s club-record signing.

Click play on the video above to watch it.

Messi’s latest goal dares you to count the touches (video)

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the La Liga match between CA Osasuna and FC Barcelona at Sadar stadium on December 10, 2016 in Pamplona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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There’s a danger in observing Lionel Messi on a week-by-week basis, and it has a lot to do with how he makes greatness look routine.

So while it’s easy to dismiss yet another mazy dribble through a defense, one of those “Frogger” style with calm-but-vicious cutbacks, try to consider everything that goes into Messi’s second goal against Osasuna early Saturday.

[ MORE: Watford 3-2 Everton ]

On first look, you might count 9 touches for Messi starting with his right-footed collection of the ball. But move to the slow motion replays, and recognize the truth: Often Messi is letting the ball do the work for him, essentially moving the duo closer to goal while he used his preferred left foot as a must-respect threat.

That he does it in such traffic and at full speed is incredible. It’s literally one of those goals in which a linguistic luminary like Ray Hudson would have trouble over-emphasizing the greatness.

Messi now has 11 La Liga goals in 12 matches, and 22 in 19 overall.

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