Those aren’t Gonzalez’s words. That’s why we included the word “essentially” in the title, and also why we didn’t add quotes. Still, when a player says a referee’s taking yellow cards off the table, he’s essentially saying that referee is declining to do his job.
Worse: Those aren’t just Gonzalez’s words. If the Galaxy defender (and his team’s most famous player) is right, those words came from the mouth of last night’s referee, Kevin Stott, who admitted to players on the field that he was unwilling to give previously yellow carded players a second booking during the match between LA and Seattle.
A second yellow card would have seen the player ejected and suspended for Sunday’s second leg in Seattle.
Gonzalez and Landon Donovan after the match, as captured by LA fan blog LAG Confidential:
Gonzalez, from the video:
“It’s tough when Stott says to one of your players that [a Seattle player is] not going to get another yellow because he wants the best players playing the next game. It’s not his job to focus on the next game. It’s his job to focus on the game tonight, the game at hand. For him to say that to one of our players is pretty ridiculous.”
Multiple times in last night’s second half, Zach Scott, who had been given a yellow card in the 37th minute, seemed to come close to another booking, perhaps most notably when he committed what looked like an intentional foul on Galaxy striker Robbie Keane at the edge of the Sounders penalty area. While that type of “professional foul” is often, but not always, given a booking, Stott did not issue a card.
Though Gonzalez didn’t name Scott specifically, he would later describe the Seattle player’s actions in a follow-up question. Only Scott and Sounders right back DeAndre Yedlin were on yellow cards for Seattle.
Donovan supported Gonzalez’s account, saying, “The officials had made it clear that no one’s getting sent off. So we have to make sure we’re aware of that next weekend, and we’ll play with that in mind, and I’m sure they will, too.”
So what’s MLS to do about this? Probably tell the Professional Referees’ Organization to have a long talk with Mr. Stott, who needs to sit the rest of these playoffs out. At the same time, it’d be naïve to assume that referees weren’t already doing this, so a louder, more clear message needs to be sent.
It’s not your job (imaginary referee that I’m now talking to) to ascribe significance to the repercussions. You see play, judge it, and assess it in terms of the rulebook. We already concede, on instances such as obstruction, dangerous plays, even hand balls, that reasonable people have different interpretations of what is and is not illegal. As Silviu Petrescu’s style implies, that’s an unfortunate but real byproduct of our complex and unsatisfying world.
What we aren’t willing to concede are interpretations that change based on context. At that point, you not only have to be an accurate judge of players’ behaviors, but you also have to make a correct interpretation of context. Moreover, you’re applying step one in the “So you want to fix a soccer game” handbook, and while there’s no reason to think Stott was doing that last night, that’s why people take officiating consistency so seriously. If your ebbs and flows in interpretation start coinciding with time on the clock, score, or even ‘these teams have another game to play next week,’ that’s a big, big problem.
A referee’s job is to interpret rules, not context, and while leagues have turned a blind eye to referee scoffing at this before, talking about it on the field takes that firmly into “oh, hell no” land.
Stott’s confessing to only enforcing rules when they fit his image of how a series should be played. But nobody cares what he thinks. Nobody cares how he feels the Western Conference finals should unfold.
He’s specifically paid not to care. If he can’t do that, maybe he shouldn’t be paid anymore.