Head of referee organization acknowledges mistake in D.C. United-Houston match

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The head of domestic soccer’s recently formed Professional Referee’s Organization has walked back on his original assessment of Sunday’s controversial incident in Houston.

Now, PRO general manager Peter Walton says Dynamo defender Andrew Hainault should have been ejected for his first-half take-down on D.C. United midfielder Raphael Augusto during the teams’ Eastern Conference Championship contest.

Referee Ricardo Salazar, seeing contact from both players, declined to whistle a foul. Contacted by NBC at halftime, Walton said he believed a foul had occurred but said it warranted a free kick and a yellow card. No clear goal scoring opportunity had been denied, in his initial evaluation.

But yesterday PRO issued a statement in which Walton altered his stance.

In review of that play, my opinion has changed in as much as the defender, which I thought in real time would have influenced the play, clearly was behind the action and therefore the disciplinary sanction should have been a red card for denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

“I made the initial statement on my real time opinion without having the advantage of a replay. Having reviewed the replay, it is clear it ticks all the boxes for a denial of as goal scoring opportunity and a send-off should have been the outcome.”

So, a mistake was made. But comments in other forums (hopefully from a minority opinion) have wondered about a league level conspiracy.

Yes, it certainly was so. And the malevolent message to referee Ricardo Salazar was surely delivered by men who were fast-roped in from black helicopters. Or perhaps passed via clandestine couriers who meet on isolated park benches – you know, where surveillance efforts are more problematic.

The bottom line here: refereeing in MLS is a problem, one the league was slow to acknowledge and address. That said, concerted efforts are happening now. This is hardly the first refereeing kerfuffle.

Besides, decisions on penalty kicks, red cards and such are tough in every league across the globe. The men in the middle get some right and they get some wrong. It will always be so. (My complaints on MLS officiating have always been about match management, lenient enforcement and a general resistance to call simple fouls.)

It is too bad for D.C. United – but let’s all check the conspiracy theories at the door.