Wednesday, August 25, 2010 |
Two MLS teams on the road in CONCACAF, two disappointing results. Even if each had an air of inevitability, the way things with down leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Toronto, starting with their best player on the bench, played poorly and suffered the wrath of disastrous CONCACAF officiatingin their 1-0 loss to Arabe Unido. Columbus, without their strongest team as well, played well enough to earn a draw with Santos but succumbed to an added time goal. The Crew had their own poor refereeing to deal with when Andy Iro's goal was wiped away after a bizarre sequence. It would be easy to call MLS teams "snake bit" in Central America and Mexico, but that implies a strong element of luck; both losses last night had just as much to do with human error as they did with bad fortune.
With a night to sleep on the events in Panama, the whole debacle is still as galling as ever. Arabe Unido's propensity for diving and simulation was always going to make the game difficult for us to watch and difficult to Toronto to win. Make no mistake: TFC didn't play well enough to deserve much of anything, though the way in which they lost Nick LaBrocca ten minutes into the second half gave them little chance to steal a point. In the end, Preki's mistakes were only compounded by the officiating; still, TFC fans and MLS-backers should feel aggrieved, considering the atrocious, near criminal, performance of referee Marlon Mejia.
Columbus, meanwhile, did not deserve to lose to Santos. Alas, it's the way of things of MLS en Mexico; though, if Iro's goal hadn't been taken off the board because the Fourth Official failed in his duties by letting a player without a number take the field, it might not feel so unfair. Official incompetence stealing the goal, especially in light of the fact that Renteria was forced off for a jersey change after having his eye opened up by a Santos elbow that did not result in a foul, is again par for the CONCACAF course. The rightness of the resulting call to take the goal away matters less because referees in the region long ago lost the right to the benefit of the doubt. We're well beyond happenstance and basic innocent mistkes. This feels like a pattern. The Santos goal, the ultimate punishment for a Crew team that played so gamely while doing their best to hold on to the draw, was the typical injustice.
The weight of the Mexican curse might rest more lightly if MLS teams were not consistently running into questionable refereeing.
We're practically numb to this sort of thing at this point, having seen these referees bottle game after game in the region. When nothing that happened in Panama is a surprise, it's a clear sign that this tournament and the referees of the region (yes, all of them: it's called guilt by association) are nothing more than a cruel joke played at the expense of the Champions League's credibility and the possible commitment of MLS teams to winning it.
How can we (and be we, I mean me, just yesterday expressing disappointment at Columbus' traveling squad) fault any MLS coach for bagging games in Central America and Mexico when the same thing happens over and over? Why not take the opportunity to give your front line starters a rest when it's likely, hell almost certain, that the referee with turn the game into a farce?
I'm beginning to wonder if we're approaching a tipping point. Don Garber says it's important for MLS to perform well in the Champions League, but coaches are clearly hesitant to give everything they have in a competition that has so many inherent problems, including the poor officiating. Fans are besides themselves over repeated examples of refereeing incompetence. Winning the competition is an important symbol of Major League Soccer's progress, but why should its teams be forced to climb a hill made so much steeper by CONCACAF ineptitude.
Would anyone, MLS, USSF (which admittedly would be pot-and-kettle on the referee front), or the fans, call for a boycott of the tournament? If this continues, and the disillusion grows, something is bound to break. I'm not advocating a boycott of the Champions League by MLS teams, especially not while knowing my feelings are colored by the recency of it all, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that someone will.
In the end, let's give CONCACAF credit for one thing: they managed to get Crew and TFC fans to agree on something. That might be a first.