CARSON, Calif. – Before the start of the CONCACAF Champions League, the LA Galaxy scouted their opponents and tried to get up to speed on their rivals.
Another factor in the tournament, though, was something for which the team couldn't prepare.
The officiating in the CCL has drawn criticism throughout the group stage and has left the Galaxy with a larger amount of gripes than normal. The complaints though are not the run-of-the-mill, “What was that call, ref?” variety.
“It’s bad officiating, there’s no two ways about it,” LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “I saw this in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The officiating is bad.”
From his days with the US national team, Arena saw the officiating in Mexico and Central America firsthand. Some of the major inconsistencies have not gone away. And while the sting of the calls may not have been easy to deal with, at least he was prepared for it.
“There are too many phantom calls in this competition," Arena said. "It hasn’t been good. I don’t know how else you can explain it, but it hasn’t been good. It is all part of it, although I don’t believe it should be; but it is CONCACAF and you experience that. If you don’t realize it’s coming then you’re really going to be surprised.”
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The Galaxy, who host Morelia in a crucial Group A match on Wednesday (10 pm ET/7pm PT, Fox Soccer, Telefutura, concacaf.com), were victims of perhaps the most egregious officiating mistake in the entire tournament. Tied 1-1 with Morelia in the 90th minute of the team’s match in Mexico on Sept. 13, Robbie Keane smashed in a rebound and seemed to give the Galaxy a lead. Instead, the goal was called off as the official ruled Keane was in an offside position.
Television replays showed the Irishman was several feet onside when the initial shot – a header by Omar Gonzalez – was taken.
“‘Cheated’ is too strong a word," Arena said. "It’s not fair, but we were robbed of points there by anybody’s imagination. That was very strange. It’s been a strange tournament in terms of officiating for us.”
Calls that have lingered long after the whistle blew also include head-scratching yellow cards handed out to David Beckham and Omar Gonzalez at Alajuelense last week. In Costa Rica, the Galaxy picked up those two yellow cards and were seemingly not getting the benefit of the doubt by Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell.
Perhaps that’s to be expected in road matches? Arena doesn't believe so.
“I don’t buy into that theory," he said. "That’s just bad officiating. The officiating should be the same whether you’re home or away. We got screwed at home as well.”
At home against Alajuelense last month, Beckham picked up a yellow card after asking an assistant referee several times to give him more space on a corner kick. Juninho also picked up a late red card for knocking down a Costa Rican player late in the match.
Still, perhaps Arena’s biggest complaint hasn't been with the officials themselves, but rather CONCACAF.
“It’s something we told our team at the beginning of the tournament, that the officiating was going to be bad,” Arena said. “Then the other part of it, the assignments have been incredible – that they assign a Honduran and a Mexican crew in a group where we have a Honduran and a Mexican team. That’s Assignment 101 that they failed on miserably. That kind of stuff they’ve got to get right.”
Marco Rodriguez of Mexico officiated the Galaxy’s home match against Alajuelense while Benigno Pineda of Honduras was in charge of the Galaxy’s game at Morelia.
“There are bad calls, unlucky calls everywhere so that shouldn’t surprise us but some of those other things at the administrative level can be better,” he said. “There are no excuses for some of them.”
Heading into Wednesday night's match against Morelia, where the Galaxy need three points in order to keep their hopes alive, Arena hopes to minimize the damage that has been done by the officials in previous matches.
“I expect to win this game and be alive for game six,” he said. “So we’re going to put it all past us.”