Referee Ricardo Salazar: ineffective in the middle Sunday

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Once among the league’s better officials, Ricardo Salazar has lately acquiesced to the most recurring MLS refereeing fault: refusal to call fouls and stubborn refusal to get on top of things early.

Both teams at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday had ample ammunition for displeasure. And in the end, the fans lose more than either team because they see – stop us if you’ve heard this before – another match where skill counts for less, while cynical fouling is granted tacit approval.

In the wrongheaded effort to “let them play,” here’s what Salazar missed:

Robbie Russell’s brutal, flying body assault on Adam Moffat, which eventually forced the Dynamo holding midfielder from the match. (Russell really should have been cautioned three different times over the 90 minutes.)

Nick DeLeon’s awful tackle on Kofi Sarkodie near the team benches. And D.C. Untied teammate Brandon McDonald got his shots in, too.

(MORE: Analysis of the Houston Dynamo win Sunday)

But if Salazar’s damage to Houston’s larger playoff ambitions was more “death by 1,000 cuts,” it was a giant hammer blow to D.C. United.

United has lots of reason to believe the match could have turned when Dynamo center back Andrew Hainault dragged down midfielder Raphael Augusto  just before the half. There was some defensive cover around, so perhaps red wasn’t warranted; it was debatable whether Houston’s center back denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity, the major criteria for a red card in that situation.

But as Augusto had position in the tussle and was bearing in on goal, it was a booking and a free kick at very least. Unless you’re Salazar, apparently.

Hopefully, we’ve seen the last of him for the 2012 playoffs.