MLS has a major problem with Toledo. No, not the city in Ohio but the referee Baldomero Toledo. The MLS midweek game last night was excellent – it had drama, a touch of irony, and a late goal leading to a 1-1 draw between the Whitecaps and Revolution. What the match didn’t have was 11 on 11; once again the referee intervened to alter the outcome of the game, almost from the outset.
Before we list Baldomero Toledo’s sins, let’s give credit to the two teams on the pitch tonight. Days after scoring two stoppage time goals to draw even with Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver were victims of a little late magic themselves. Ilija Stolica continued the Revolution’s knack for goal-scoring with a clinical goal (top shelf, to borrow the hockey phrase) two minutes into stoppage time to grab a late point. The home team got their goal a man down in the 55th minute when Eric Hassli converted a penalty. Hats off to New England, who despite missing three regulars including their starting keeper still got a road point and continue their near-miraculous start to the season.
But this match will forever be tainted by the suspect officiating of Toledo. Let’s review the major calls in this match to see just how bad he was last night:
- Gershon Koffie received a red card in the first half for an elbow to the head of Pat Phelan. Looking at the replay, it is inconclusive whether the elbow was intentional. In fact, in a situation like that one (high ball where both players have to extend to head it) a flying elbow or two is almost unavoidable. Toledo immediately reaches for the red however and sends Koffie off. This is a terrible call; Vancouver in now a man down for an entire half for something that did not look to be intentional in any way. Give him a yellow or a stern warning, but not a straight red.
- Two minutes into the second half, Eric Hassli received a yellow card for another elbow to Kevin Alston. This one is a little more understandable, as the referee has clearly shown any hint of an elbow will receive a card. But again, looking at the play, it is not an intentional elbow. Far from it, it looks more like a result of the play than Koffie’s, and does not deserve a card. Poor decision again by the referee.
- Now it is New England’s turn to be aggrieved. An Attiba Harris pass at the edge of the box missed Camilo who was bumped by Zach Boggs. Camilo fell and Toldeo signaled penalty immediately. This was a travesty for two reasons. First, Camilo had no play on the ball, it was to his left out of his reach and the contact in no way altered his ability to reach it. Second, the contact was minimal and even if Camilo did not dive (which I am in no way accusing him of doing), the contact did not warrant a penalty. As it was, the ‘Caps converted and were up 1-0.
- The next controversial call came immediately after. Hassli converts the penalty and immediately runs to the crowd to throw his jersey into the fan section. But underneath his jersey was…another identical jersey. In fact, he swapped his long sleeved shirt for a short sleeve. No matter, taking off a jersey is an automatic yellow and, with it being his second, Hassli was sent off. It was dumb by Hassli, but after an undeserved first yellow this really put Vancouver in bad spot: playing essentially 35 minutes with nine men.
- But it would not be 11 on 9 the entire match. In the 75th minute, A.J. Soares is red-carded on a tackle on Attiba Harris. His studs weren’t up, he got a piece of the ball and the tackle could have been a foul and possibly a yellow card. But Toledo, sensing it had been 20 minutes since he had gotten attention, brought out the trusty red card and sent the rookie to the showers. The rest of the match was played 10 on 9.
Now all officials have bad games, we are human and it happens that in an event with highly-toned athletes at peak physical condition the pace of play is too fast to catch every foul correctly in real time. We at home have the benefit of replay, which makes it easier to criticize, so we should give officials leeway. But this is part of a disturbing trend for Mr. Toledo this season in MLS.
- In Saturday’s Toronto-Chivas match, Maicon had a close goal ruled offsides, a goal that could have been the difference in the match. Just like in last night’s match when a New England goal in the second half was incorrectly ruled offsides.
- Two weeks ago it was DC United who was the victim of Toledo’s poor refereeing. DCU was down two goals in the first twenty minutes when the Revolution were not penalized for a Schilawski handball which allowed him to gain possession and score; followed by a penalty given on Dax McCarty when he tried to clear a ball from the box and Pat Phelan ran into his leg.
Those offenses were minor compared to the ones last night. While a referee should never be blamed for a team winning, losing, or drawing a match (save obvious and proven cheating), MLS needs to address his terrible officiating. Everyone complains about the referees in the league, and this is a great chance to do something about it. The league should suspend Toledo for a match to send a message that improving the referees is a priority and an issue they take seriously.