Was the critical refereeing moment Sunday in Houston really such an egregious mistake?

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Ricardo Salazar’s choice to let Andrew Hainault slide on yesterday’s MLS referee kerfuffle du jour had D.C. United fans seeing red – over the lack of red, that is.

“Oh, the injustice!”

The loudest media voices worked as an accelerant. “Clear red card” was the consensus, and there certainly is a compelling argument to be made.

Written responses from Salazar to a pool reporter’s questions were standard-level opaque; it really didn’t serve to move the debate anywhere.

But I’m going to add a little more nuance here (and probably stinging comments from D.C. United supporters):

I’m not so convinced Salazar got it so wildly wrong. At very least, I can strongly suggest the choice was not as clear cut as everyone wants to make it. This is in direct conflict with voices in the game I greatly respect, like NBC colleague Kyle Martino, whose analysis throughout 2012 has generally fallen been somewhere between “sharp” and “unimpeachable.”

But I think in this case, “clear red,” just got caught in the echo chamber, gaining its own greater velocity and energy.

Here’s what I saw (the video is below, if you haven’t seen the incident in question):

United’s Raphael Augusto fouls Hainault first. No, it’s not much, but it’s probably a foul. Does that 100 percent mitigate Hainault’s clear take-down from there? Probably not … but it adds another layer into this giant lasagna of a choice.

Either way, I see two defenders who are converging. Would they get to Augusto before he could put something on target toward Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall? Impossible to say. But again, I see some enough doubt here that a red card might have been the wrong call – even more wrong than a non-call if you’re convinced there was a flagrant foul from Hainault (pictured above tussling with United’s Lionard Pajoy).

What I saw was yellow card and a free kick. In my mind, it would have been the fair and reasonable choice for all.

Salazar had a bad game; I am clearly on record on that one. But I just don’t think this particular decision to be as egregiously poor as everyone seems intent on declaring. D.C. United’s over-the-top protests added to the lantern-and-pitchfork consternation, by the way, and that should be considered in all this.

One more thing to say about all this:

In the night’s second match, Seattle defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado tripped up Landon Donovan as the Galaxy attacker tore in toward Sounders goal. Watch the sequence and decide for yourself, based on the positioning of other defenders, if Donovan wasn’t denied a clear goal scoring opportunity every bit as much as Augusto?

The difference: announcers on site didn’t immediately proclaim a mistake was made, so the hue and cry never took lift off – and therefore never achieved the same critical mass.

Well, that and the fact that Los Angeles ruled the night anyway, I suppose.

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