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Red Cards Upset Goals in CONCACAF First Leg

Last night was the unofficial start to the MLS season, as Real Salt Lake and Columbus faced off in their first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.  In a night that was below freezing and in front of a sparse crowd, the two teams grinded out a 0-0 draw that was defined by the referee as well as missed chances by Columbus.

The first half set the tone for the entire evening, as Columbus came out attacking and hiad their first chance in the first minute as the Crew attacked down the left side with Renteria crossing a pass into to Mendoza who couldn’t corral it for a shot.  That sentence basically summarized the first half as Columbus controlled possession and attempted to create scoring chances, with most of them being thwarted by Real Salt Lake or being poorly executed.  Columbus consistently attacked down the left, which is something they must have seen in film sessions as a possible weakness.  RSL had two decent chances in the first ten minutes, but were content to sit back and play defense against a Crew team that is looking to replace some of their big name players this season.  The only other thing to note from the first half was Tony Beltran’s hard tackle on Emmanuel Ekpo in the 43 minute, which resulted in the game’s first yellow card.

The first goal in the second half, I thought, would be monumental for momentum, for it would come as a result of Columbus domination of play or a back-breaking counter from RSL.  Of course all this statistical analysis went out the window in the second half as referee Jair Marrufo decided to make his own impact on the match.

In the 52nd minute Tony Beltran was again carded for a rough tackle (this time on Fabian Espindola) and was sent off.  The tackle, while hard, might have deserved a first yellow card but was not severe enough to warrant a game-changing second yellow card.  By sending him off, Marrufo completely turned the match around.  Now RSL would be trying to hang on to a scoreless draw for forty minutes, which undoubtedly led to a slower match.

The red cards were flashed again in the 70th minute when Emilio Renteria went down to the ground holding his head.  At this point the CONCACAF television feed did a poor job of showing the post-whistle action, so for a few minutes the Fox Soccer crew and audience were left wondering what was going on.  But once Nat Borchers and Emilio Renteria started walking to the tunnel, it became very clear: Marrufo had sent both players off with straight reds, and the game was reduced to a 10 on 9 contest.  The commentators noted this could result in more wide-open and free-flowing play, but the exact opposite was the result: the game slowed to a halt as RSL understandably tried to run out the clock and escape without giving up a goal.

You’ll notice the second half analysis has very little talk of actual soccer, and that was because most of the half was similar to the first: RSL’s defense slowing down and stopping Columbus from having many good scoring chances.  The Crew only finished with two shots on goal.  Their best chance came late in the match when a Robbie Rogers free kick just missed the head of a wide-open Jeff Cunningham in front of the net, who would have easily scored the game’s only goal if he could have corralled the kick.  Instead, we were destined for 0-0.

Now the quarterfinals shift to Real Salt Lake, and RSL has to be feeling confident about their chances to advance.  Playing at home where a win of any score helps them advance gives them a leg-up, but their inability to score an away goal takes away that safety net they would have if Columbus can grab a goal at Rio Tinto; remember, the away goal rule is in effect.  In terms of what this match told us about this team, it didn’t reveal much that we didn’t know.  The RSL back line looks very good, and Rimando made saves when he had to.  Espindola and Saborio had a limited role in attacking, but we should see more of them on Tuesday.  A definite key to the return leg is how RSL can adjust without Borchers and Beltran, who are now both on red card suspension.

As for Columbus, Crew faithful have to be both heartened and disappointed by yesterday’s match.  For a club that some thought were a lock to be in the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they hung with maybe the best team in MLS and looked like a pretty talented team.  That being said, they couldn’t score and created very few quality chances at home, and are now firmly underdogs in the next leg of the Champions League quarterfinal.  Plus they will be without Emilio Renteria, who before he was sent off looked to be the Man of the Match for Columbus.

What did you think about last night’s match?

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  1. Dave C

    February 28, 2011 at 11:53 am

    The tackle, while hard, might have deserved a first yellow card but was not severe enough to warrant a game-changing second yellow card. By sending him off, Marrufo completely turned the match around.

    A yellow-card is a yellow-card, regardless of whether it is a first bookable offense or a second bookable offense. Just because other refs lack the guts to apply the rules consistently, doesn’t mean we should criticize this referee for getting it right.

  2. Tom

    February 24, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    It’s not FIFA’S business when the MLS plays its season. But, I think it is better off not matching the European season. Most importantly- the weather. But also, it is not directly competing as often. During the summer, the Euro leagues are off’; and even when they overlap it is different parts of the season. The beginning of the MLS season doesn’t have to compete with the beginning of the Euro season. Same for the final of the MLS- it comes in the middle of the Euro season. The contrast lets me enjoy both more.

  3. WSW

    February 23, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    NASL has a better playoff format than MLS:

    The top six teams based on a Regular Season Single Table will advance to the playoffs. The top two seeds will receive a bye into the semifinal round and the remaining four teams will play in a single game playoff to advance to the semifinals. Semifinal and finals of the playoffs will consist of the traditional two game home and home series using aggregate goals to determine the winner. The NASL playoff championship series will take place on the weekends of October 22 and October 29.

    • Alan

      February 24, 2011 at 2:21 am

      The top six out of eight teams is still not good, but I’m sure that will change. I am excited to see where the NASL will go in the future. I just wished that I was close to a club to check out a game.

  4. Johnny V

    February 23, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    This is one of the many reasons MLS should not change to an international schedulle. Its too cold!! stadiums are gonna be empty, this is not fun to watch.

    • DanB

      February 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm

      ain’t that the truth. The Upper decks were closed for safety reasons do to the weather conditions.

      • Alan

        February 24, 2011 at 2:19 am

        But… but… EPL does it!!!! lol

        I would NEVER go to a game in these conditions. I will probably drive 4 hours to Columbus this summer at least 3 times, maybe more.

  5. Charles

    February 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Having 18 teams and 10 make it ? Is anyone for that ? Anyone ?

    I sort of like the MLS playoff format, for 5 years from now, with 24 teams.
    Grow the league like it can, and then look at this year as a growing pain.

    They should have a best of 3 games series for the whole playoffs rather than 1 game stretched over 2 days, then reducing it down to one game for the most important games. Just a stupid way to do it.

  6. Robert

    February 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm


  7. Michael

    February 23, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    What do I think?

    I think you’re blaming the official for poorly played soccer.

    I fear that whoever wins the second leg could well be eaten alive by the winner of Saprissa-Olimpia. MLS clubs just aren’t at the level where they can come into the KO phase and hold their own against clubs in midseason form. (Ironically, this works in MLS’ favor during the group stage, though.)

    • Charles

      February 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm

      You don’t think that is typical MLS play do you ?
      You can’t be saying that.

      • Alan

        February 24, 2011 at 2:17 am

        MLS clubs tend to play better than that. That was horrible and probably had to do with the weather. And yes, I actually go to games and know that they play better than that.

  8. sergio lima

    February 23, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Robert, did you hear anything about this new international soccer league here in US? There is a group of major American and European investors talking to two Brazilian clubs, two Argentinean clubs and many other teams in Europe and Africa in order to bring them here as francising teams to play on an international league with support already from one major American tv network. The money involved must be huge or the South American teams would never said yes so quickly. Do you know anything about this?

    • The Gaffer

      February 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm

      Sergio, can you send me more info about this to my e-mail address at thegaffer[at]epltalk[dot]com?

      The Gaffer

    • Tim

      February 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm

      Sergio, you just described what soccer teams did in the late 1960’s.

      Also what you are saying sounds crazier than the European Super League

    • Charles

      February 23, 2011 at 2:36 pm

      I found it Sergio

      sorry couldn’t resist.

      • Dan

        February 23, 2011 at 2:41 pm

        It’s a pretty cool idea but isn’t that the point of the FIFA Club World Cup? I really do believe they need to expand that tournament to have at least 2-3 teams from each federation take part.

        after watching RSL v COL last night though I don’t think we will be in the next FCWC

    • Charles

      February 23, 2011 at 4:50 pm

  9. Scott

    February 23, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Why does FIFA and CONCACAF let a referee like Jair Marrufo play such a large role in a game such as this? His past record of controversial calls, some involving RSL directly, should keep him on the sideline. It is all but proven that Marrufo has a bias unsportsmanlike history in his role as a ref.

    That said, I think that RSL still has the advantage for March 1st. They hold one of the best home records of any MLS team. They also have an established an proven reserve on the bench that can fill in for the two missing players.

    • Alan

      February 24, 2011 at 2:14 am

      I agree. I like RSL’s chances next week.

    • Charles

      February 27, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      I like both teams chances against Sapp-Olimp.

      Niether looked as good as Salt Lake and Columbus to me in the group stages and it was probably tough to tell in the tundra game, I got a sense Columbus didn’t fall as much as you would think.

      Plus, Salt Lake will most likely win in Utah anyway. I can hardly wait for the next game…the start of the season….I am just pretending the frozen field game didn’t happen. 😉

  10. Charles

    February 23, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Thank for the article….must have been tough to write.
    That was a snooze fest.

    FIFA, newsflash: MLS will NOT/should NOT be playing winter soccer.

    Wow, that was brutal to watch.

    • Robert Hay

      February 23, 2011 at 10:37 am

      Charles –

      Definitely agree with you on the winter soccer point. The crowd was minuscule, and the 25 degree weather had to have played a role in that. And as dull as it was at times, it was good to see MLS soccer again!

      • Josh

        February 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm

        I’m sorry but even in good weather I feel it would have been a snoozefest. Their are very few teams in MLS that can play to a high enough caliber to make it exciting. The biggest problem is that it just seems like the players brains move at such an incredibly slow pace that they hold the ball too long and when they do finally pass it its straight at the other team.

        • Joe

          February 23, 2011 at 9:43 pm

          I wonder what kind of person with no knowledge of or interest in MLS would spend their time on an MLS blog. I bet it’s the same sort of person who doesn’t know how to properly use the words “there” or “it’s”.

        • Alan

          February 24, 2011 at 2:13 am

          I was wondering the same thing. Just sad that this is how people waste their time.

          I would never have went to this in the winter. In the summer, I make trips from Detroit to Columbus to watch matches.

          I forgot though. Europe does it, so we have to do it. March to November HAS to be the way it is done lol.

    • Robert

      February 23, 2011 at 10:47 am


      MLS matches are always a snooze fest. Too many touches when players were passed the ball and most of the time they had no idea what to do with it. The defenders were meat heads by just booting the ball up the field and the mid-field couldn’t even do a one two pass (Mainly RSL). No one was moving into space and defenders were left with no choices. This was not do to the weather but the quality of the players.

      I applaud the 2,000-4,000 people who showed up in the 20 degree weather. I applaud the players who were Men and played through the elements. I still believe an August- May Calender will work as long as you have a winter break and matches post winter break are scheduled in “warmer” climates. Lets stop being girly men and play through the elements like Russia.

      • Joe

        February 23, 2011 at 2:25 pm

        The Russian season runs from March to November.

        • Allo

          February 23, 2011 at 7:42 pm

          The Russian League will be switching to the European Calender this upcoming season.

          • Joe

            February 23, 2011 at 8:42 pm

            Oh. In that case, correction: the Russian League will suck from November-March this upcoming season.

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