Monday, May 26, 2008

What's Wrong with the USL?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a die-hard fan of my local football team, the Portland Timbers. However, I'm not so rabid a fan that I'm incapable of recognizing when my team plays poorly, when they make a mistake, or even when they commit my cardinal sin of football - diving (or other general poor sportsmanship).

So when I complain about how dreadful USL referees can be, don't think that it's just sour grapes. In fact, I feel that the quality of refereeing in the league has really gone up over the last couple of years. However, what I saw today was some of the worst officiating I've ever seen in my life.

It began when our coach was ejected from the game for kicking a garbage can (although one can imagine that he may also have had a few choice words to say, perhaps even about the referee's mother). Now, while I do understand that you can't have an out-of-control coach in the stadium, one would have thought that Mr. Wilkinson would have deserved a caution before being ejected. After all, he didn't hit anyone, or run out on the pitch, grab the ball, threaten anyone, etc.  But no, kick a garbage can, get thrown out, apparently.

We also saw our star forward ejected after a second yellow in as many minutes. The first was for fighting, and was likely well-deserved. But the second came on a hard challenge, one where Mr. Suzuki did get a foot on the ball.  A foul?  Yes.  A yellow card?  Doubtful. It's very likely the second yellow came only because there was a first one. Had this hard challenge occurred before the fight, I doubt the ref would have felt it warranted a card.  One could argue that Mr. Suzuki brought it on himself, and one might be right.

However, it was clear that the ref on the field was very quick to pull cards in this game.  I got the impression that he felt it was the only way to control the game. Rather than talking to players, out came the card, time and time again.  Unfortunately, his calls were quite inconsistent.  A hard challenge by Miami would receive the "play on" signal, whereas a hard challenge by the Timbers saw a yellow.  In the end, the two teams ended up with a similar foul count, but the Timbers saw far more cards flying in their direction.  And they often found themselves getting fouled without getting the calls.

Inconsistent is the nicest thing I can call today's officiating. Blatantly one-sided is a better description.  Timbers fans are known for "taking the piss" out of the refs, but the mood in the air was different today.  Questions about the quality of ref eyesight and hearing are frequent amongst the fans, as are calls for the ref to "get off his knees."  But it's been a rare day in the Park that I've heard the chant "How much have you paid the ref?"

It was disappointing. I also feel that it was a real backslide for the league. I'd actually managed to forget what it felt like to have these crap referees. But very quickly, those old feelings of frustration came rushing back in. Oh yeah, we played games like this for years.

As an aside, what's happened to USL players?  When did they turn into a bunch of pansies? It's really getting tiresome. I'm sick of seeing guys fall to the ground at the slightest touch, rolling around like they've just lost a limb.  Get up! It's a man's game! What's worse, the refs always seem to fall for this obvious play-acting. It's disgusting. This isn't Italian league soccer, guys, get up and play the damn game. I give props to Vancouver, one of the only other teams in the league that doesn't need to resort to such ridiculousness to win a game. You schooled us the other night; well played.

At any rate, you played well tonight, boys. You played your hearts out. You deserved to win, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.

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