A number of things struck me with regards Saturday’s 2-1 loss to San Jose Earthquakes, not least the weak officiating.
Fans have been quick to bring me up to speed on the level of refereeing in MLS. I try not to be too harsh on the men in the middle (and their colleagues), because it is a tough job, not made any easier by players - of every team - doing their best to test the ref’s judgment.
Mr. Jorge Gonzalez set his stall out early on at the weekend, calling 'Quakes 'keeper Jon Busch for time-wasting on a number of occasions in the opening 15 minutes. He even ran 40-yards to hammer home his point, eager to make sure Busch knew who was in charge. It seemed a little soon for the ref to be taking such steps, and I was skeptical as to whether he’d be consistent throughout the 90 minutes.
Of course, he wasn’t.
Highlights: COL 1, SJ 2
Gonzalez’s early actions alerted the Rapids bench, who were then watching for Busch to take his time at a re-start which – from the tapping of their watches – he did on a regular basis. This agitated Oscar Pareja and Co.
The referee was not consistent, and consistency – whether we agree with the decisions being made – is what we as fans clamor for from our match officials.
Busch pushed his luck, and got away with it. If the Rapids were leading, at the home of a tricky opponent, our fans would be quite pleased to see Clint Irwin take his time. I’m not blaming Busch. I blame the referee, who made a rod for his own back and didn’t have the strength to stand by his initial stance.
Atiba Harris was rash and reckless in his challenge on Alan Gordon. Late, from behind and coming through the side of the player, who was going nowhere. It was a red card all day, so let’s not take the blinkered view that it was anything else.
My issue here, though, is again the officiating. Mr. Gonzalez had a perfect view, from less than 20-yards away. He was stood directly behind the challenge and will have seen everything – and yet he was still reaching for only a yellow card until corrected by his 4th Official. What hadn’t he seen that his colleague had? Did he feel that Harris had maybe made contact with the ball first? If so, then it’s a firm challenge with the ball won and deserving of nothing more than a 'Quakes throw.
We saw it when the Rapids played at Columbus. Referees failing to make the big calls. On that occasion, the Disciplinary Committee got involved. On this occasion, the 4th Official was forced to lend a hand and spare the referee’s blushes.
Now, I’m all for the match officials working together to make – ultimately – the right call, but the referee should’ve been strong enough to have cautioned Busch, as he appeared on course to do. And he ought to have been pulling the red from his pocket as he rushed toward Harris, and not dithering over a yellow.
Strong officials are better officials. In MLS, there’s still some way to go on that score.
Highlights: COL 1, SJ 2
Now to matters concerning the Rapids on Saturday.
First, it was sensational to see Jaime Castrillon back on the field, and he very nearly leveled the game with a flying header.
Nathan Sturgis again highlighted why there’s been little room for Pablo Mastroeni in the starting eleven.
And Martin Rivero was instrumental in almost every good thing the team did after the interval.
But – as with the games against Chivas USA and FC Dallas – the Rapids only really got going after the break. The level of intensity early on was not where it should be. Visiting teams, playing at altitude, need to be pressed and pushed from the very start. Don’t let them settle. Don’t let them dictate play. Don’t let them boss the Rapids in their own back yard.
San Jose did just that on Saturday.
The two goals conceded were particularly disappointing. Defensively the side has been so disciplined this season. The decision-making has been superb. Sadly, that wasn’t the case against the 'Quakes. Players were too easily pulled out of position. Communication appeared lacking, and the crafty, cunning Earthquakes were able to take advantage.
Agreed, there were always going to be gaps when a man down, but there should not be gaps in the final third, either in defense, or in the space just in front of the back four. That’s the area you protect, whilst going one short in attack.
The Rapids were left to rue a missed opportunity, against a struggling side. At Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the side should revel in home field advantage. They didn’t look like the home team until down to 10 men and a goal adrift, by which stage the job had become that much harder.