That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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I believe you will find it is you who are mistaken. About a great many things.

Posted by kozemp on July 12, 2012

We learned three very important things at PPL Park last night.

1) There is, in fact, a level of officiating that is worse than what is commonly found in MLS.

2) The Philadelphia Union still have quite a long ways to go before all of their problems are solved.

3) I am not very good at kicking a soccer ball.

So, a rundown.

It’s an article of faith among MLS fans that the officiating in the league hovers just above abysmal. This is hardly surprising. USSF refs don’t exactly get the best training in the world so one can’t be too surprised when they go to a game and fuck it up on a scale normally used by people like Charles Richter.

I’ve spent a good portion of the last three years at PPL Park and while the MLS officials have not been out-and-out terrible every week, poor officiating seems to be the norm rather than the exception. After a while you just get sort of… I don’t know… inured to it, I guess. You go to the games, you root for your team, the official makes a shitload of mistakes, there are no peanuts in your goddamn Cracker Jack, everybody goes home, and on and on it goes, till death do us part, amen.

Occasionally you’ll get egregiously bad refs whose intent, it seems, is to elevate bad officiating into some sort of hideous performance art, as though their desire were to go in front of 18,000 people and put on a terrible show so as to purposely draw the audience’s ire, as some sort of bizarre commentary on the American need for a villain. This, frankly, is pretty rare. Most the time you get garden-variety terrible refs who simply don’t know what they’re doing, or aren’t fit enough to keep up with the game, or hate Peter Nowak because of that time he told the ref’s mother go fuck herself.

Last night, though, at the US Open Cup semifinal against Sporting Kansas City, officiating in American soccer reached a new, previously unthought-of nadir. Like I said, I’ve been at PPL Park for the better part of the last three years and last night was, without a doubt, the single worst officiated soccer game I have ever seen in my entire life. The sheer number of things the referee “let go” in this game was STAGGERING. Hand balls, lunges from behind, players kicking the ball away from the team that won a free kick – that last one of at least three things in this game I counted that are supposed to be an automatic yellow card where none was issued – the official no-called every one of these things, multiple times. Oh man, the hand balls. So, so many.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We did not lose BECAUSE of the ref. I’m not even sure how much the ref directly contributed to the Union’s loss. Having the worst official of the history of soccer – that’s right, you heard me, worst official in 2400 years – certainly didn’t help the cause, but any reasonably fair assessment would show that the Union lost because Zac MacMath lost his mind on a free kick in the middle of the second half, flailing at it like a seven-year-old trying to return his father’s serve in beach volleyball.

Which, conveniently, nicely segues into the next thing we learned, which is that for all the recent turnaround under John Hackworth, the Union still have a long way to go to get back to where they were, say, a year ago.

There is a fine line between playing badly and simply not playing well, and the Union flip-flopped back and forth over it all night. I still say they spent more time on the “not playing well” side, and that overall the game had the feel more of a dire and dreary cup final than of a usually-more-interesting semifinal. I can’t even say one of the usual platitudes like, “this wasn’t the same team that won their last three games, including beating this Sporting team 4-0.”

This was, in fact, very MUCH the same team that rattled off those three wins in a row, and that was part of the problem.

Around the middle of the first half (just before a Union free kick where our slam-bag official would wrongly rule him offside) I turned to Tim and Nick and said, “Jack McInerney has got to get out of there.” In the buildup to the kick, which like almost every other free taken this game seemed to go on forever, Jack wandered around the Sporting penalty area seemingly tired, beaten down, barely there.

Tim said, “he looks gassed.”

I said, “he looks dead.”

And he did. Jack looked terrible the entire game. I get that the Union are trying to put on a new face in the Hackworth era, and that in order to restore the fan’s trust in the team they need to go out there and win as many games as possible. I agree; these are things they have to do. But the simple fact of the matter is that three days ago this team was playing Toronto FC at home, and even though in our previous meeting this season we lost to The Worst Soccer Team In The World, if Hackworth had put out a slightly reduced side this past Sunday to save up players like McInerney I don’t think anyone would’ve complained too much with the far more important US Open Cup semifinal coming – a game where a fully-fit, fully-charged McInerney would have been much more useful than a game against the absolute dregs of professional soccer.

As it was, with McInerney a pale shadow of himself, and Pajoy performing his usual shtick of “running around on a soccer field with no one really knowing what he’s doing,” the Union attack basically had no teeth the entire evening.

And let’s not even go into SKC’s second goal, which was the first hockey-style empty-netter I’ve ever seen in soccer.

I’m still inclined to give Hackworth a significant benefit of the doubt – the league results are good and at this point almost any sort of positive outcome is a major uplift for the team and the fans – but the roster selections last night and over the last week were pretty egregious mistakes. Hackworth’s mistake compounded with MacMath’s mistake and left the Union crashing out of the Cup, but, well… live and learn, I suppose. It’s early days for both of them and last night’s result aside, the future still looks a hell of a lot brighter than it did six weeks ago.

And, finally, I kicked an actual soccer ball with my actual foot for the first time since approximately 1986. It was a very nice evening weather-wise, and after the game we found ourselves in the parking lot waiting for the line of cars to reduce to a point where we could conceivably leave sometime that night, and Nick had a ball, so I ended up occasionally joining the kick-around.

To say it not go well would give poetic license a bad name, and on at least two occasions my attempt to hit the ball with my foot failed entirely and I was forced to defend myself with my hands and arms, and I’m still not 100% certain that on that last free kick, in which I tried to knock over a 64 ounce soda mug on the lip of a trunk, I didn’t break five or six bones in my right foot. Still, though, a good time was had and I wouldn’t mind doing it again. Provided I can get myself better shoes. And better feet. And better coordination.

Or, at the least, I could simply stop telling everyone how badly I do at it.

JLK

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One Response to “I believe you will find it is you who are mistaken. About a great many things.”

  1. Tom_Carney said

    I agree with the assessment of Hackworth’s line up picks but I think he was left with a lot less (player wise) than what Nowak had to work with last year. So it is an unfair comparision between the last two seasons. If we would have kept the core group from last year – I think that we would at very worst be in the playoff hunt. At very worst, you will see performances like the Us Open semi but currently, I think you have the fan’s interest and passion back at PPL Park and that is a start for this re-energized franchise.

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