Home MLS More MLS Breaking down Michael Bradley’s comments, by the numbers: Do Canadian refs really favour American teams?

Breaking down Michael Bradley’s comments, by the numbers: Do Canadian refs really favour American teams?


Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley crossed a line on Saturday night.

After Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Chicago, which saw Edmonton-based referee Dave Gantar rule out what would have been Gilberto’s winning goal for a phantom push on a Chicago defender, Bradley vented his frustration. And it was captured on the TFC’s official video feed (CLICK HERE).

“They continue to assign Canadian referees whenever an American team is playing against an Canadian team… they are going to go make a conscious effort to show that they are not being biased one way or another. It’s not the first time we’ve had this guy this year. What can I say? He’s just not good enough?”

A player moaning about officials is nothing new. But it wasn’t that Bradley was simply calling out Gantar for missing a call. He was suggesting that there was a motive behind the call. He suggested that Canadian referees are making “conscious efforts” to call their games a certain way.

It’s one thing to challenge a referee’s eyes or even a referee’s judgement. But the second you challenge the official’s character, you need to back that up.

Did Gantar make the wrong call on Glberto? Yes. Even the opposing coach, Frank Yallop, allowed that his Fire side was fortunate.

Dave Gantar, ball in hand. PHOTO: CANADA SOCCER/ANDREW SOONG
Dave Gantar, ball in hand. PHOTO: CANADA SOCCER/ANDREW SOONG

“It didn’t look like it was a foul, or whatever the ref called. We got lucky on that one,” Yallop said after the game.

But, let’s make this clear. There’s a big difference between a blown call and a blown call because of bias. And Bradley suggested the latter.

Let’s take a step back. Bradley suggested that Gantar was “in over his head” doing MLS games, but Gantar is one of North America’s most decorated officials. He’s done World Cup qualifiers, Gold Cup matches and, ahem, the infamous 2011 Amway Canadian Championship final, second leg, which saw him make the call to abandon the match during a punishing thunderstorm.

And there’s an even bigger issue here. Bradley suggested Canadian refs can’t fairly call games between Canadian-based teams and American-based teams. But is it true?

Well, the only thing to do is crunch the numbers; to sift through all of the matches in 2014 — both MLS and NASL — and isolate all the games where a Canadian referee has watched over a meeting between a Canadian-based side and an American-based side.

In MLS, it’s happened 16 times so far this season (go to the end of the article for game-by-game summaries). Canadian teams are 5-7-4 (W-L-D) in those matches. But that includes games that involve the Montreal Impact, so don’t read too much into the overall records.

Here’s what counts. In those sixteen matches, 203 fouls were called against the U.S. teams; 196 against the Canadian sides. Pretty well even.

Yellow cards? A total of 17 yellows were shown to players on the Canadian teams. Guys on the American teams saw 15 cards. Again, pretty close to even.

Red cards? Only two have been shown in those 16 games, and both went to the Canadian teams. But, that sample size is really too small to say anything about. Unless, of couse, you wonder why no U.S.-team player saw a red.

Penalties are the only area where the Bradley conspiracy theory could have some merit. American teams have been awarded six spot kicks; Canadian teams have only got two awarded to them.

But, based on total fouls called and cards, there’s no way that Bradley’s theory is proven by the numbers.

In NASL, the assignment strategy is a little different. PRO, the organization that assigns refs for MLS matches, only assigns refs for NASL games based in the United States. For games in Edmonton or Ottawa, the Canadian Soccer Association assigns the matches. So, that means every game on Canadian soil has a Canadian ref. But PRO has assigned Canadian Mathieu Bourdeau to games in the United States, as well.

So, in NASL, so far 19 games have been played between Canadian teams and American teams that have been officiated by a ref from north of the border.

The fouls — 243 called against the American teams, 230 against the Canadian teams.

Yellow cards — 42 against the American sides, 32 against Canadian sides.

Red cards — 2-1, with the Canadian teams getting one more.

Penalties — 6-5, with the American teams having the slight edge.

So, nothing in the NASL stats, absolutely nothing, to suggest bias.

Gantar made a poor call. Canadian officials have made poor calls. But we’ve also seen American officials make poor calls in games involving Canadian teams. Ted Unkel, Sorin Stoica, Fotis Bazakos, Balodomero Toledo — check the message boards of Canadian-team fans and see how many times those names pop up. It comes with the territory — refs are always the first target for scorn.

But, the stats don’t look to indicate any bias. And, as much as it hurts in the wake of the missed call, Bradley has to do the right thing and apologize. Or, PRO has to do the right thing and give Gantar another Toronto FC assignment as quickly as possible. ??

Detailed stats are below.

Canadian teams’ record: 5-7-4 (21-25)
Fouls: US 203, CAN 196
Yellows: CAN 17, USA 15
Red cards: CAN 2, USA 0
Penalties: US teams 6, CAN teams 2

March 22 2014
Silviu Petrescu
TFC 1, DC United 0
Yellow cards: DCU 1, TFC 1
Fouls DCU 20, TFC 12

April 5, 2014
Silviu Petrescu
NYRB 2, Montreal Impact 2
Cards: None
Fouls NY 9, Montreal 9
Penalties: NY 1 (missed)

April 12, 2014
Dave Gantar
Colorado 1, TFC 0
Yellow cards: TFC 1, Colorado 0
Fouls Col 12, TFC 10

April 19, 2014
Silviu Petrescu
Vancouver 2, Los Angeles 2
Yellow cards LA 1, Vancouver 1
Fouls: Vancouver 13, LA 10

May 3, 2014
Drew Fischer
Vancouver 3, San Jose 2
Yellow cards: Vancouver 1, SJ 1
Fouls: Vancouver 19, SJ 14
Penalties: Vancouver 1, SJ 1 (both converted)

May 17, 2014
Silviu Petrescu
Yellow cards: TFC 2, NY 2
Fouls: NY 13, TFC 12

May 31, 2014
Silviu Petrescu
Montreal 2, New England 0
Yellow cards: NE 2, Montreal 1
Fouls: Montreal 13, NE 12

July 5, 2014
Dave Gantar
DC United 2, TFC 1
Red cards: TFC 1
Fouls: TFC 8, DCU 7

July 19, 2014
Dave Gantar
Columbus 2, Montreal 1
Yellow cards: Montreal 1
Fouls: Montreal 9, Columbus 7

July 24, 2014
Drew Fischer
Real Salt Lake 3, Montreal 1
Yellow cards: RSL 1, Montreal 1
Red cards: Montreal 1
Fouls: Montreal 13, RSL 9

July 27, 2014
Silviu Petrescu
Portland 3, Montreal 2
Fouls: Montreal 20, Portland 5
Yellow cards: Montreal 3, Portland 0
Penalties: Portland 1 (converted)

Aug. 10, 2014
Dave Gantar
Vancouver 2, Sporting KC 0
Yellow cards: SKC 2, Vancouver 2
Fouls: SKC 25, Vancouver 9
Penalties: Vancouver 1 (missed)

Aug. 16 2014
Drew Fischer
Sporting KC 4, TFC 1
Yellow cards: 0
Fouls SKC 15, TFC 12
Penalties: SKC 2 (both converted)

Aug. 30 2014
Silviu Petrescu
New England 3, TFC 0
Yellow cards: NE 3. TFC 1
Fouls: NE 22, TFC 13

Sept. 6 2014
Drew Fischer
DC United 0, Vancouver 0
Yellow cards: DCU 1
Fouls DCU 14, Vancouver 8

Sept 13. 2014
Dave Gantar
Chicago 1, TFC 1
Yellow cards: TFC 2, Chicago 1
Fouls: TFC 16, Chicago 9
Penalties, Chicago 1 (missed)

Canadian teams’ record: 5-11-3 (29-29)
Fouls: USA 243, CAN 230
Yellow cards: USA 42, CAN 32
Red cards: CAN 2, USA 1
Penalties: USA 6, CAN 5

April 19, 2014
Mathieu Bourdeau
New York 1, FCE 0
Yellow cards: FCE 2, NY 2
Fouls: FCE 23, NY 15

April 19, 2014
David Barrie
Minnesota 2, Ottawa 1
Yellow cards: Minnesota 2, Ottawa 2
Fouls: Ottawa 15, Minnesota 11

April 26, 2014
Yusri Rudolf
Ottawa 4, Carolina 0
Yellow cards: Carolina 2, Ottawa 1
Fouls: Ottawa 15, Carolina 12

May 3, 2014
Alain Ruch
Fort Lauderdale 3, FCE 1
Yellow cards: FTL 3, FCE 1
Red cards: FCE 1
Fouls: FTL 12, FCE 9
Penalties: FTL 1 (converted)

May 10, 2014
Justin Tasev
Tampa Bay 1, Ottawa 1
Yellow cards: Ottawa 2, TB 0
Fouls: TB 12, Ottawa 11
Penalties: Ottawa 1 (missed), TB 1 (converted)

May 24, 2014
Chris Grabas
San Antonio 3, Ottawa 2
Yellow cards: SA 3, Ottawa 2
Fouls SA 18, Ottawa 12
Penalties: Ottawa 1, SA 1 (both converted)

May 24, 2014
Robert Schaap
Atlanta 2, FCE 1
Yellow cards: Atlanta 3, FCE 0
Fouls Atl 13, FCE 9

June 8, 2014
Francis Latulippe
FCE 6, Carolina 1
Yellow cards: Carolina 2, FCE 0
Fouls: Carolina 14, FCE 12
Penalties: FC Edmonton 1 (converted)

June 8, 2014
Mathieu Bourdeau
New York 1, Ottawa 0
Yellow cards: Ottawa 4, New York 2
Fouls: Ottawa 15, New York 14

July 20, 2014
David Barrie
New York 1, Ottawa 0
Yellow cards: New York 3, Ottawa 0
Fouls: New York 16, Ottawa 10

July 27, 2014
Chris Grabas
Indy Eleven 1, FCE 0
Yellow cards: None
Fouls: FCE 7, Indy 6

August 3, 2014
David Barrie
FCE 3, San Antonio 1
Yellow cards: SA 3, FCE 2
Fouls: FCE 18, SA 14
Penalties: SA 1 (converted)

August 9, 2014
Marie Soleil-Beaudoin
Fort Lauderdale 2, Ottawa 1
Yellow cards: FTL 3, Ottawa 1
Fouls: FTL 13, Ottawa 13

August 9, 2014
Mathieu Bourdeau
Minnesota 3, FCE 2
Yellow cards: FCE 2, MNU 1
Red cards: MNU 1
Fouls: FCE 15, MNU 11
Penalties: MNU 1, FCE 1 (both converted)

August 17, 2014
Robert Schaap
San Antonio 1, Ottawa 1
Yellow cards: SA 3, Ottawa 3
Fouls: SA 19, Ottawa 12
Penalties: Ottawa 1 (missed)

August 24, 2014
Sheena Dickson
FCE 2, Fort Lauderdale 1
Yellow cards: FCE 7, FTL 4
Red cards: FCE 1 (2nd yellow)
Fouls: FTL 19, FCE 12
Penalties: FTL 1 (converted)

August 30, 2014
Yusri Rudolf
Tampa Bay 2, Ottawa 0
Yellow cards: TB 3, Ottawa 2
Fouls: TB 17, Ottawa 11

August 31, 2014
Alain Ruch
FCE 2, Minnesota 1
Yellow cards: MNU 1
Fouls: FCE 16, MNU 6

September 7, 2014
Justin Tasev
Carolina 2, Ottawa 2
Yellow cards: Carolina 2, Ottawa 1
Fouls: Carolina 12, Ottawa 10

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  1. rob

    September 15, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    With all due respect Penalties (or obvious non calls) are the classic way refs with bias have “fixed” games. I am not implying this regard fixed this game only that the penalties are the key Stat. This shows some potential bias in the MLS and in fact the blown call was in many ways a reverse-pk if you catch my drift (i.e call in box led directly to a team benefiting from a goal)

  2. cwell

    September 15, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Perhaps this could have been avoided if Gantar had said something in response to the players, including the Captain, Bradley. Instead, it looked as though he just smiled at them, as if to imply that they had nothing to complaining about. They did. He could have said: look, from where I stood, it looked like a shove in the back; that’s a foul.

  3. bishopvillered

    September 15, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I’ve noticed Bradley has been going off the rails on refs for a little while now. Surely, I’m not the only one. He’s not doing the league, the club, or himself any favours. Comments like this also paint refs in an impossible situation: they go one way on a subjective situation, and Bradley supporters will see it as further evidence. If they go the other way, opponents will claim that it’s still bias, just shifted due to Bradley’s seeding thoughts in refs’ heads. He’s constructed a Catch-22 that helps nobody involved.

    There’s a massive difference between challenging competence and questioning corruption. No league likes the former, no league should tolerate the latter. The league should assign a massive fine (however MLS wishes to define that), and some sort of season-remaining probation with the threat of suspension for further ref comments from MB.

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