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Torpedoed By Toledo

San Jose Dallas game wrecked by rampant refereeing

It’s very admirable of San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski to share the fact that his mother taught him: if you can’t say something good about someone don’t say anything at all, and then add that he had nothing to say about the refereeing in the game on June 7 between the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas.

I, however, don’t operate under any such noble, maternal strictures, so I’d like to look at the way referee Baldemoro Toledo handled that particular game.

It’s often said that game stats bear little or no relation to the eventual outcome of a game. Perhaps the same is not necessarily true of refereeing stats. In the 10 years between 2004 and 2014 referee Baldemoro Toledo refereed a total of 184 games and therefore cannot be called, by the stretch of anyone’s imagination, a rookie.

In 2013, Toledo refereed 22 MLS matches and led all MLS referees with 72 yellow cards and 12 red cards shown. He whistled 592 fouls (an average of 26.9 per game or one every 3.34 minutes) and gave 9 penalty kicks.

So far in 2015 Toledo has handled 9 games, issuing 35 yellow cards, and 6 red cards; that’s an average of 3.88 yellow cards per game and a staggering 1.5 red cards per game.

San Jose’s new striker Mark Sherrod was having a pretty good game in his first match as a starter up front for San Jose against Dallas on Sunday evening. At least, he was until his cleats made contact with Dallas keeper Dan Kennedy’s head. Referee Toledo whipped out the red card and Sherrod after much “what do you mean? I was trying to jump over him!” miming, took the long walk to the early shower.

Let’s take a look at the official FIFA regulations on the 7 offenses that can result in a red card and a player being sent off. These are from the official rules of the game on the FIFA website.

“There are seven offenses for which a player, substitute or substituted player can be sent off and shown the red card.

1. Is guilty of serious foul play

2. Is guilty of violent conduct

3. Spits at an opponent or any other person

4. Denies an opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area.)

5. Denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick.

6. Uses offensive or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures.

7. Receives a second caution in the same match.

There’s lot of talk about intent and deliberate this that or the other but the word “intent” is not specifically mentioned in the rules of the game.

So the question referee Toledo needed to ask himself was whether Sherrod’s contact with Kennedy was either serious foul play or violent conduct. In Sherrod’s particular case he had finished his move for the ball and was trying to hurdle Kennedy who had the ball in his arms. The situation was compounded by Kennedy coming up off the ground as Sherrod jumped.

It’s pretty evident looking the replay footage that Sherrod was trying to avoid contact so that would rule out violent conduct.

If Toledo had taken even a minute to assess the situation, perhaps consult the linesman, the outcome might have been different but with all three red cards the hand went straight to the back pocket and the red was out before anyone so much as had a chance to draw breath.

Suffering a barrage of boos every time he made any subsequent decision, Toledo, at least temporarily evened up the number of players on the field 22 minutes later, by sending off Dallas’s Je-Vaughn Watson for a foul on San Jose’s Cato. The foul, which appeared to be a case of serious foul play, sufficiently damaged Cato’s knee that seven minutes later he was forced to leave the field.

Toledo then made the game look like a Manchester United drinks coaster swap meet by issuing a third red card in the 87th minute to JJ Koval who had only been on the field 5 minutes.

Referee Toledo and other of his disciplinarian ilk, may think that they are maintaining a tight grip on the game by handing out all these cards, but the best referees are the “invisible” ones who facilitate the game, not those who attempt to control it.

Moving forward, both clubs now have to handle the suspension issues around the red and yellow cards with key players now being unavailable for upcoming games.

San Jose Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear described the play as both “not a red card” and as “incidental and accidental.” General manager John Doyle indicated that the club would “most likely” appeal the ejection.

After the game reporters were given the opportunity, via written questions, to ask just two questions of referee Toledo. Toldeo’s first answer was that Sherrod’s card was given due to “violent conduct.” Asked if intent was deemed on Sherrod’s part, Toledo simply answered, “Yes.”

There are those who say that referees do a difficult job, that it’s a thankless task, that refereeing in MLS is not as bad as it used to be, or not as bad as in other leagues. All of those points of view are perfectly valid but MLS aspires to greatness on the world stage. That greatness has to include not just the way players, fans, and the club organization occur both on and off the field, but also in the level of officiating.

Referee stats courtesy of PRO website
Game rules courtesy of FIFA