Home MLS Toronto FC When it comes to treatment of officials, Toronto FC flirts with disaster

When it comes to treatment of officials, Toronto FC flirts with disaster

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Before I get into the meat of this column, I wanted to start with this disclaimer.

I know the quality of refereeing in North American soccer is poor. PRO, the organization that administers officials in MLS and games on American soil in USL and NASL, needs to do better. In Sunday’s second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal between Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls, referee Chris Penso didn’t have a great afternoon. He called back what should have been a tying goal for TFC , calling Jonathan Osorio for, well, something, as New York keeper Luis Robles was fumbling the ball across his own goal line. He also wasn’t too happy that Victor Vazquez tried a quick free kick and stuck it in the New York net — and demanded a retake.

Toronto lost on the day, 1-0, but still won the series on the strength of two away goals in the first leg.

I’ve seen some dreadful refereeing errors in all three of the leagues I’ve mentioned. And the quality of officiating from Canada Soccer-assigned refs in USL and NASL matches on Canadian soil hasn’t been better.

But, now I’ve put that disclaimer out there, it also needs to be stated that in no way do referees deserve to be disrespected. They don’t deserve to have their notebooks torn up, they don’t deserve to be bumped, swarmed or grabbed. Referees are in a no-win situation in North America; the get very little professional support, they hold other jobs, they don’t get the chances to  develop like refs in other countries do and, well, the pay and travel are crap.

We know Toronto FC is going to face The Team Soon to Be Formerly Known as the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Final. We know that, because of cards they so very deservedly earned, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore won’t be available. The major parts of TFC’s strike force did not really shower themselves in glory on Sunday.

Altidore got into what was a running feud with New York’s Sacha Kljestan, a skirmish that began in the wake of an incident between Giovinco and Red Bulls defender Tyler Adams. It was a flare-up in what was an ugly game in the rain between two teams who clearly don’t like each other. This game wasn’t pretty. This was a contest of throw-ins and free kicks and had no flow whatsoever.

Kljestan and Altidore argued. They went chest to chest. Kljestan shoved the much bigger Altidore, and Altidore went down to the turf with pure CONCACAF aplomb. Both players got yellows.

But neither gave up their running feud, and both were off after an incident at halftime in the tunnel that, well, we’re still hearing about in dribs and drabs.

As well, Giovinco picked up a yellow for protesting after he went down, well, pretty easily. That yellow earned him a suspension for game one against Columbus. Giovinco had felt earlier in the game that he was fouled, that the Red Bulls (and Adams, especially) were getting away with fouling him. He felt he should have earned a penalty.

In the game, though, both players continued what has been a troubling pattern with Toronto FC this season. In the first half, after not getting a call, Giovinco came at Penso from behind and grabbed the referee by both shoulders in attempt to spin him around and yell in his face. And he got nothing for it. Penso took it.

Another referee might have pulled out a red, and no one would have complained.

Before being sent off, Altidore went over to the fourth official and put his hands on him in an attempt to complain.

It’s not the first time with TFC. There is swarming, there is a feeling that players can go out and touch the referee. And the fact that they go and do that is proof that they don’t respect Michael Bradley, their captain. It’s the captain who should be handling these protests to the officials, if there is going to be one. 

Instead, this is a team that gives the impression that they can protest to referees with impunity.

Both of these players will miss a game. But, sooner or later, their actions are going to lead to red cards. Their actions will cost TFC. At some point, the Reds are going to need to learn to rein it in when it comes to how they interact with officials. That’s got to come from coach Greg Vanney. That’s got to come from Bradley.

The truth is, our sport is still in an incubation stage in North America. We have yet to find a way to develop referees. The ones we have make mistakes.  One thing we can’t do, though, is show that we tolerate players — especially those who don’t have armbands — touching refs, swarming refs. If all we do is show a lack of support for referees, the cycle doesn’t break. Young referees choose not to go forward in the game, the refereeing pool dwindles, and the quality doesn’t improve.

Fans expect a better level of officiating. And as hard as it may be at times, we should also expect players to treat the officials we have with some modicum of respect.  After all, discipline is one of the things your club and supporters for you to have.

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