Canuck coach can't cool down after costly call

Canada's Atiba Hutchinson, left, argues with referee Benito Archundia during the second half of the...

Canada's Atiba Hutchinson, left, argues with referee Benito Archundia during the second half of the Gold Cup Soccer game against USA, Thursday, June 21, 2007, in Chicago. USA won, 2-1.(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

JON COOK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

Canada's men's soccer coach says Mexican referee Benito Archundia should never have been in a position to deny Canada a victory against the United States and a berth in the Gold Cup final.

Archundia waived off Canada's injury-time score that would have tied their semi-final 2-2, claiming scorer Atiba Hutchinson was offside on the play. However, video replay clearly showed the ball touched U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu, which should have made the goal stand and send the game into overtime.

"Usually, as you get deeper into the competition, like the semi-final and final, you don't have referees from those countries being involved," Stephen Hart said yesterday, referring to the fact that Mexico was playing Guadeloupe in a later semi-final. "There are 40 countries in CONCACAF, so you think they could find referees."

Hart stopped short of calling it a conspiracy to get the defending-champion Americans back into the final, but was clearly miffed at being on the losing end of another one of Archundia's blown calls. It was the same official who cost Canada a possible berth in the 2006 World Cup, when he called back a go-ahead score by Olivier Occean in a qualifier against Honduras at Edmonton nearly three years ago.

"I can't say that he has something against Canada," said Hart, who was serving his last game as the national team coach on Tuesday before Dale Mitchell takes over next month. "These things happen in the game and it adds to the spice because it's going to be controversial and people are going to talk about it for years. The situation is one where unfortunately he was the ref both times."

Hart, who was on his way back to his home to Halifax after the loss, was hoping to extend his successful run with a berth in the final. He took over from former coach Frank Yallop last September and, at that time, was supposed to be only an interim coach for three games.

"To play Mexico in the final at the Gold Cup would have been a very special occasion and certainly it would have been the biggest game of my coaching career," he said. "But I'm not in control of that situation so it's only a matter of thinking what could have been."

Over the past 24 hours, the Canadian coach has been besieged by media asking about the controversial call.

"Let's be honest. The media likes this sort of controversy," said Hart, who also felt that Archundia should have ejected U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra for a hard foul on forward Julian DeGuzman in the first half. Bocanegra was given a yellow instead.

"There were two incidents in the game that I would question. I thought Bocanegra should have been sent off and the situation with the goal."

Neither Archundia, nor any of the officiating crew, explained the call after the game, which Hart said is typical of soccer officials in general. Afterward, the coach found it extremely difficult to address his players, who surprised the soccer world by just getting to the semi-finals.

"They were absolutely shattered," he says. "What can you say? They're going home and he's (Archundia) going to continue to referee."

Still, the Canadian team felt some good could come out of its heartbreak loss.

"I think it's done wonders for the team," Canadian Soccer Association president Colin Linford said from Chicago. "They knew that they were the better team on the day. They had played well throughout the tournament and we basically agreed that we're going to be a lot tougher of an opponent because of this as we go into World Cup qualifying next year.

"It's a game played by humans and refereed by humans. If a mistake was made, it's easy in hindsight ... we just had to accept it."


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