What was Pat Onstad thinking? How could he lose his cool so suddenly in the most important game in the Dynamo’s season? A dangerous cross came through the penalty area, just out of his reach, and continued over the byline. Sure, replays show Fredy Montero obstructing the goalkeeper, but not in any way dangerously. Besides, he has as much right to get position on the cross as Onstad. So when the ‘keeper charged the young striker, chest-first, knocking him to the ground, a red card from referee Ricardo Salazar was certainly next. The Dynamo would be down to 10 men, without their veteran goalkeeper for the rest of this game and the return leg in Houston, and looking at a second successive first round exit in the MLS Cup playoffs. However, Salazar conferred with his officiating crew and proceeded to display a yellow card to Onstad. The Seattle crowd roared furiously, viewers across the nation were left scratching their heads – even the announcers seemed to be surprised.
Perhaps if the push had occurred on any other player than Fredy Montero, there would have been a red card. Unfortunately for the young Colombian, he has developed a reputation throughout MLS for his unsporting tactics. So while Onstad escaped with a yellow card, Montero was also booked for his part in the altercation. As Kartik Krishnaiyer introduces in the previous article, these often despicable actions do little to endear Montero to the general American soccer fan. Even some Seattle supporters have expressed their displeasure at the perceived cheating. He is still early in his career, and one hopes that Montero can learn to use his skills with the ball to find success in MLS – not his dives.
On the play that could have changed the whole complexion of this playoff series, Pat Onstad explained his side. “He just picked me and, to be honest, I just gave him a super-light bump,” he said to reporters after the game. “He went down like he normally does and rolled around a few times. I think if it had been Nate Jaqua, he would’ve just brushed his shoulder like there was a fly buzzing him.”
Onstad may be underselling his part in the altercation. Replays show the goalkeeper visibly upset at Montero’s actions, and the “super-light bump” was given with heavy intent. According to a report from the referees, a yellow card was given instead of a red because of the action of the push – no hands or head, just the chest. However, it seemed clear that there was malicious behind the push, and could have easily been awarded with an ejection from the game. Onstad was saved by the poor reputation of Montero, a point he referred to in further post-game comments: “[T]hat’s Fredy. I knew as soon as I bumped, ‘That’s the wrong guy to bump, Pat.” So, I got what I deserved and I’m sure the referee felt [Montero] embellished a little bit.”
Give credit to the referees in this hotly contested match. Both the Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders FC earned eight red cards apiece during the regular season. The Dynamo in particular was being labeled in the media as being “undisciplined.” Preparation prior to the game for the officiating crew must have entailed the profiling of players most likely to inflict dangerous play. The Onstad/Montero incident occurred in the 15th minute of the match, with each earning a yellow card. With the precedent set for the remainder of the game, only four more yellows were issued, despite a number of other reckless and dangerous tackles. Should the head referee Ricardo Salazar made more of a statement early with a sending off of Pat Onstad (and perhaps Montero as well?) Fortunately he did not, and despite the early fireworks, as exciting a scoreless draw as you will see played out.