Welcome to The Spit-Take: an occasional column in which Once A Metro attempts a closer look at an event or events of concern to the New York Red Bulls. A column only partially summoned in to existence by the camera-work of Matthew Stith, who captured Dan Metzger at a perfect moment. In honor of the RBNY midfielder's ability to conjure art from a swig of water, the Spit-Take's primary unit of measurement or expression of the depth of the grievance under review will be the Metzger.
The Spit-Take starts with a look back at an incident during RBNY's game against Orlando City on April 9. The Red Bulls lost, 1-0. One of the most notable chances not converted in Orlando fell to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who was felled by OCSC 'keeper Joe Bendik as the two players chase for the ball.
Penalty? Bendik gets to the ball, no question. But it looks like his legs are upending BWP at pretty much exactly the same time. Which would seem to be a a fairly clear-cut foul - indeed, it would seem to be a pretty much identical foul to the one called on Damien Perrinelle when RBNY was in Houston the week before its trip to Orlando.
The standard being applied to Perrinelle's tackle but not to that of Bendik is what mlssoccer.com's Simon Borg likes to call "going through" the attacking player. In his Instant Replay segment for the league's official site, Borg is essentially required to be excitable and does his job with enthusiasm - to the point one gets the impression any game he was allowed to referee would finish with about six players on the field. Still, Borg is generally consistent, and the somewhat nebulous concept of "going through" an opponent is one of his favorite topics.
In his review of the Perrinelle tackle, Borg predictably determined the RBNY defender had played through Houston's Mauro Manotas. (Start around 5:21 on the video.)
In his review of the Bendik challenge on BWP, Borg made the same call. (Start around the 0:38 mark.)
This column disagrees with Borg. The Perrinelle tackle (seen from the angle presented by the Tweet embedded above rather than that used by Instant Replay) seems very clearly to zero in on the ball. There's maybe a foot of space between Manotas and the ball, which is the space that allows Perrinelle to insert himself and make the clearance. He's not playing through Manotas; Manotas is trying to play through space suddenly occupied by Perrinelle.
And if this column is going to make that argument, then it must concede that the Bendik tackle was also not a penalty. Bendik was in a 50/50 challenge for the ball, BWP wasn't giving ground, collision was inevitable; but the 'keeper is trying to make a save - and he did. He had as much right to where he is as BWP does, and since there wasn't enough space for both of them in the place they each wanted to occupy, they collided. It happens.
So no PK in Houston or Orlando for the Spit-Take; PKs all round for Instant Replay.
Where the Spit-Take and Instant Replay are agreed is that a consistent view must be taken: call those tackles fair or foul, but call them both the same - for they are surely all-but identical in intent and execution.
Of course, the two calls weren't made by the same person: Fotis Bazakos was the referee in Houston; Ismail Elfath had the whistle in Orlando. But those are two of the more experienced refs in MLS, and the league has the Professional Referee Organization - PRO - to, theoretically, oversee and manage refereeing standards. Establishing consistent interpretations of the same situation must surely be one of the primary responsibilities of PRO, so how does the agency in charge of establishing refereeing standards justify seeing two near-identical situations called completely differently from one week to the next?
Perhaps PRO will let us know - but it will be scant consolation to the Red Bulls, who fell behind to a tackle deemed foul in Week 5, but were denied the chance to take a lead in Orlando because apparently MLS referees had decided that same challenge was fair by Week 6.
For contradictory calls in consecutive weeks, and perhaps costing RBNY points in both games: PRO and two senior refs who we should be able to count on to exemplify standards of officiating - three Metzgers for you.