CARSON, Calif. — There were plenty of mixed emotions following the LA Galaxy's emphatic 5-2 romp over El Salvador's Isidro Metapán in their CONCACAF Champions League opener on Thursday night: dismay with how they started the game, satisfaction with the margin of victory, and utter frustration with how the match was called.
LA took charge in Group 5 with the victory, but head coach Bruce Arena questioned the emphasis given to the regional club competition after a series of bizarre decisions — none odder than Robbie Keane's 70th-minute expulsion — by Mexican referee Alfredo Peñaloza.
Arena called the Champions League a “circus” and declared it was “very difficult on MLS teams.”
“I sometimes wonder,” he said, “why we spend all the resources and time we do in this competition when sometimes it looks really bizarre.”
Keane was cautioned for diving after he was tripped just outside the Metapán box, and the Irish striker couldn't hide his frustration with the call, jumping to his feet, signaling to the LA coaching staff that he wanted to come off, and stomping away. Peñaloza then pulled the red card.
“The referee missed the call,” Arena said. “And, typical, we've seen in these competitions, the referees think they're bigger than the game itself and they've got to put themselves ahead of everything.
“I don't know, Robbie spoke, said something, whatever. But when a referee misses a call like that, he's got to be big enough to kind of ignore it and let the game go on. So the player gets a yellow card for diving when he's fouled and then, obviously, a red card for ... I don't even know. They didn't explain anything to us.”
Keane declined to speak to media afterward, but teammates spoke up for him.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” defender Todd Dunivant told reporters about the controversial call. “Lots of times, referees want to be bigger than the game, and that was the case tonight.”
Said midfielder Mike Magee: “It's pretty common for calls to kind of go certain ways you don't quite understand. But we should know that and react better.”
The Galaxy were also unhappy with an 80th-minute yellow card to Michael Stephens — “A mystery in itself,” Arena said — and with what Dunivant called an "unjust" penalty kick awarded after Bryan Gaul dragged down Shawn Martin seven minutes later.
They've seen odd calls go against them in the CCL, none bigger, perhaps, than when Keane's would-be winner was waved off on a phantom offside call last year at Morelia. Dealing with the vagaries of officiating is part of the pregame discussion in the CCL.
“Absolutely, it is,” Dunivant said. “Robbie's our captain [tonight], he should be able to talk to the referee. That's how that relationship works. The captain is the guy who is able to talk. You know, to be a professional referee and have skin that thin is remarkable to me. You've got to have thicker skin than that.”