July 20, 2009
Ref errors have to stop
By GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA
An embarrassment to the game.
There's no other way to describe referee Joel Aguilar despicably pointing to the penalty spot, gifting Honduras a goal on its way to eliminating Canada Saturday in their Gold Cup quarterfinal.
If the Honduran diving was ugly and a disgrace to fair-play, Aguilar trumped that.
For the second straight Gold Cup tournament, Canada goes home with an incomplete feeling, being screwed out of a fair result.
The onside -- but called offside -- injury time goal against the Americans in 2007 was an injustice, standing as the epitome of poor officiating Canada has been fighting against for years in CONCACAF.
If 2007 was a punch to the face; let's call what went down Saturday the proverbial kick to the midsection.
If you didn't see the game, go to YouTube and check out the injustice first-hand.
Whether it was a mistake or plain incompetence, it doesn't matter. Aguilar got the call all wrong.
The deemed Canadian culprit, Paul Stalteri, did every thing right defending the play.
Stalteri was in perfect position to deal with Walter Martinez after fellow defender Dejan Jakovic misplayed the ball. Stalteri kept himself between the player and the net, forcing Martinez to play with his back to goal. Was it Stalteri's fault or anything of his own doing that caused any kind of interference or contact? Absolutely not.
Any contact was a direct result of Martinez's audacious over-the-head kick attempt. And even Martinez freely admitted the referee got it wrong, which is the ultimate black eye for Aguilar.
Aguilar's claims that he made the penalty call because of "interference" are a complete joke.
To any reasonable soccer observer, there was no foul on the play. Aguilar should have known better than to blow the whistle. It was irresponsible to call a penalty on a play that wouldn't even garner a whistle elsewhere on the field.
So instead of letting the players decide the game, Aguilar took it upon himself to put one team at a disadvantage without just cause. That's breaking the cardinal rule in officiating -- never make yourself the reason for a result. And although Canada had more than 50 minutes to equalize, the damage had been done and strategy changes accordingly.
And therein lies the problem with Canada and refereeing in CONCACAF. It's not that Aguilar called a particularly bad game. Actually, he did quite well throughout. What grinds Canada's gears is the calls against them at flashpoint moments of the game. It's the penalty calls, goals called back, questionable cards, etc.
And in every one of those decisive moments over the past decade, Canada has come out on the bad end.
So what can be done about the ongoing problematic officiating?
It's up to CONCACAF to deem who is suitable to officiate and who's not. It's here where CONCACAF is falling short.
When you see the referees who made Canada's 2006 World Cup qualifying a complete joke (costing them significant points against Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras because of bogus penalty calls of the like) as well as refereeing at the 2006 World Cup, there's hardly evidence CONCACAF and/or FIFA do a good enough job evaluating and aptly assigning proper officials.
And in CONCACAF specifically, the training and development of referees deserves the scrutiny it receives, whether it be internationally or in Major League Soccer.
The game is meant to be subjective to a certain extent, and mistakes do happen, but when the integrity of the game is on the line, soccer's governing and ruling bodies need to do more to ensure the best refereeing possible.
If not, the game suffers, and claims of corruption and match-fixing are readily thrown out into the public sphere as possible explanations.
If this kind of corruption hadn't happened before, such claims would be deemed unfair.
But they have, and thus, moments of incompetence such as Aguilar's cannot continue happening -- not for Canada's sake, but for the good of the game.