Supporters of the United States national team (myself included) have complained openly and often about the officiating we’ve received at the last two world cups including an apparent handball on Torston Frings on the goal line in the 2002 Quarterfinals which was missed by EPL official Hugh Dallas and the almost criminal call by Dr. Marcus Merck of the Bundesliga against Oguchi Onyewu against Ghana in what amounted to an elimination game in the 2006 World Cup. But what is not often talked about is how in the last few cycles officiating in the CONCACAF region seems more often than not favorable towards the United States than towards its opponents other than Mexico. In other words do officials who are woefully trained and sometimes over worked in this region of the world make assumptions on questionable calls based on the strength of the teams involved in the match? In the qualifying cycle for the 2002 World Cup it seemed every single possible call that could go against the United States did, but beginning with the 2002 Gold Cup held that January, it seems if it is a CONCACAF match and a questionable call is made, more often than not it goes in the favor of the United States.
Last week’s game in Guatemala is just the latest example of this. As we’ve discussed on the American Soccer Show and on this blog site, it seemed every critical call (note the semantic difference between labeling a call critical and non critical) went the United States’ way in the first 60 minutes when Guatemala was controlling the match. Later in the game the calls began to even out but the reality is the danger by that time was less apparent for the US, who at worst after Carlos Bocanegra’s goal would secure a draw. This came just weeks after the Superliga tournament was marred by several nullified goals and foul calls all of which seemed to go against Mexican sides. I for one wasn’t overly unhappy about this as I have said for years MLS and Central American teams have gotten the same treatment in the CONCACAF Champions Cup when playing on Mexican soil. But the fact we’re talking about evening the score and tit for tat indicates their is some sort of problem with the officiating.
Rewind to last year’s Gold Cup. After looking less than inspiring at times in group play, the US was fortunate to draw a questionable penalty and see an opponent sent off in a 2-1 victory over Panama. The fact that Panama scored its lone goal down a man was telling enough about how well the US was playing that day. But the next match, in the semifinals is where the real controversy erupted. After taking a 2-0 lead over Canada at halftime thanks again to what can be labeled a fortunate penalty call (although you can see how the official called it a penalty) the real controversy ensued. Up a man after a reckless foul by Michael Bradley resulted in a red card, Carlos Bocanegra was simply shown yellow for an even more rash and reckless tackle. Then Julian DeGuzman’s apparent game tying goal was called back on offsides even though Oguchi Onyewu had clearly touched the ball meaning no Canadian player by rule could be offsides. Had the match been level at 2-2 going into extra time, who knows what may have transpired.
In the finals the United States received yet another penalty call against Mexico. But this call was clear cut as a clumsy Johnny Magallon without question fouled Brian Ching. Again the problem with officiating potentially in favor of the US does not apply when facing Mexico, but when facing other CONCACAF opposition.
I’ve heard numerous complaints from fans of other CONCACAF nations during the qualifying for the 2006 World Cup that the US would get all the calls. While this wasn’t the case in my estimation the frustration was clearly mounting entering the 2005 Gold Cup. In that tournament controversial calls went against Honduras and Panama in the semifinals and finals respectively. While neither of these calls were as egregious as the calls against Canada or Guatemala in the previously referenced matches, in context it begins to raise suspicions as to the fitness of officials in this region.
My over riding point is that CONCACAF officials are not very good and often times seem to make assumptions that the perceived superior side deserves the benefit of the doubt with regards to certain calls against lesser sides. For years and years Mexico has been accused of getting favorable treatment at Estadio Azteca or Estadio Jalsico. Personally, I have complained about this repeatedly going back to qualifying for the 1998 World Cup. But now as the United States reaches a status close to that of Mexico in the region it appears the US also is now benefiting from the same sort of treatment from referees. Conspiracy? Clearly not, but a sign of poorly trained and somewhat lazy officials. Surely, yes.