CARSON, Calif. – Omar Gonzalez will miss out on the LA Galaxy’s Supporters’ Shield-deciding clash with Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday after picking up two yellow cards in the team’s 2-2 draw last week at StubHub Center.
Following the match, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena was quick to critique the officiating crew’s decision to award Gonzalez a second yellow on a foul on Sounders FC midfielder Gonzalo Pineda in the 88th minute. In his postgame press conference, Arena labeled referee Ismail Elfath’s decision “a terrible call and a poor piece of officiating” that will leave LA without their star center back for a pivotal tilt in Seattle.
Gonzalez, who did not address the call after Sunday’s match, responded following Wednesday’s training session and admitted that he agreed with his head coach.
“I had a few days to think about it and look at the play again and from my standpoint, it wasn’t a yellow,” said Gonzalez, who was quick to mention that both Galaxy and Seattle players were left frustrated by Elfath’s calls. “I think that I went to the ground because I thought that I was going to win the ball and I did get the ball first. He continued running and then tripped over me.
“Would I make that play again? Considering how late it was, I would take another look at it, but I wanted to win the game. If that means making a tackle and starting a counter then so be it. I think the referee made a mistake. I think that he made a lot of mistakes in the game. If players have to be held accountable and be fined and suspended then I think that referees should be held accountable for mistakes that they make in a game.
“It’s not just our team, but Michael Bradley has spoken out and plenty of other players want to speak out but they’re afraid of getting fined,” he added. “At some point, the referee’s ego has to be thrown out the window and they have to be held accountable. We’re always trying to make the football better and we have to make the refereeing better.”
Bradley has been a frequent critic of MLS referees since joining Toronto FC in the offseason, famously ripped the officials following TFC’s 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire. The moment that drew Bradley’s ire occurred in 90th minute when TFC striker Gilberto appeared to score the game-winning tally, only to see it waved off by referee David Gantar.
"The league can make all the excuses they want. They can say that they're working with PRO and bringing Peter Walton in to do all this kind of stuff but at the end of the day, it's just not even close to being good enough, because consistently they put referees out there that are just in over their head," Bradley Fumed. "And it's a shame, because they ruin games and totally decide the outcomes of games."
Robbie Rogers also noted after the draw with Seattle that it was time for a stricter code of regulating officials if said referees suffered on the field.
“The inconsistency of reffing is what makes me mad. Then there was the foul [by Obafemi Martins] on [A.J. DeLaGarza in the 57th minute], if you’re going to call that call all of them, you can’t just pick and choose,” Rogers said after LA’s draw. “As a defender, there are certain games where you can be more aggressive and when you have refs like this then you just don’t know. I mean my first tackle of the game was a yellow card.
“There’s no soccer knowledge with these guys. They’re too emotional. I saw the referee get involved in an alternation with Dempsey and I thought ‘this is your job, you have to be professional.’ I hate to be this harsh, but if I had a bad game then people would be the same.”
For the match in Seattle, the Professional Referee Organization has assigned veteran referee Mark Geiger to the Supporters’ Shield deciding fixture. Whereas Elfath is in just his third year of officiating MLS games, Geiger brings a decade of experience as well as top tier international experience as the New Jersey native served as the head referee for three matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Although Geiger has heaps of top tier experience in important matches, Arena is holding his breath that there will not be any issues when LA and Seattle line up on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ll see what kind of job that he does,” said Arena. “They claimed the last referee has had a very good year in the league, but it looked like the game was too big for him.”
But amid all this talk, just how does MLS solve the problem of inconsistent officiating? Gonzalez says that it can only start with officials being held accountable.
“I don’t know how to solve the issues, but if they think that they think that he’s the best referee even after he had a game like that then I think that they need to have a think about how they revaluate referees,” said Gonzalez. “All around the world, they evaluate referees and that’s one thing that we need to do as well.”