Hey, Toronto FC, some cheese with that whine?
Hours after an embarrassing display in a 1-0 loss to Panamanian champs Arabe Unido in CONCACAF Champions League play, Toronto FC didn't talk about the fact that most of the starting lineup was left on the bench for the game. The players didn't speak to a terrible effort, with no midfield play or cutting edge to the attack.
Instead, the focus was on Salvadoran referee Marlon Mejia.
Here's what some of Toronto FC's players told the team's website after the 1-0 loss in Panama. Nick LaBrocca, one of two Reds who saw red: "Probably the biggest joke I've ever been a part of."
Dwayne De Rosario, who came in as a second-half sub: "This is the first time I've ever seen it so bad."
Coach Preki: "How do you say? Embarrassing thing for the competition to have this kind of refereeing in this kind of game. I'm speechless -- without the words."
Funny, maybe it's my cynicism about international games held in Central America, but Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League game that saw Arabe Unido beat Toronto FC wouldn't even make my top-10 list of CONCACAF worst-officiated games.
It wasn't even the worst-officiated game of the night. (More on that later).
I've been covering CONCACAF games since 1996, so maybe I am desensitized.
Two Reds -- Nick Labrocca and Fuad Ibrahim†-- were sent off. The Reds felt that Arabe Unido got every call and made sure to embellish fouls or even non-fouls.
A little devil's advocacy.
Worst pratfall of the game: Toronto's Dwayne De Rosario, who tumbled outside of the box without contact late in the second half. Maybe it was a slip, maybe a little bit of tit-for-tat, but it's not like TFC were perfect sportsmen on the night.
Maybe this was because I watched Arabe Unido's farce last week against Real Salt Lake -- in which two of its players were sent off, and ref Paul Ward added nine minutes to the second half to make up for the play-acting -- but the Panamanians were nowhere near as theatrical as they were against RSL.
TFC created one decent scoring chance all night. One.
Nick LaBrocca's red card came after a two-footed slide into keeper Jose Calderon. The ball was loose, and Calderon embellished the foul. But, no ref, whether it's in Panama or the Premiership, looks favourably on two-footed slides into keepers. It's just like running the goalie in hockey; refs give them special protection. All Calderon has to do is get a finger on the ball -- not even control, just a finger -- and LaBrocca's challenge is illegal. It wasn't malicious, but it wasn't smart.
Mejia was poor. But he didn't change the outcome. The right team won, based on effort and run of play. If TFC had even got a point out of Panama, justice would not have been served.
But Panamanian referee Luis Rodriguez did influence a game. His performance in Tuesday's Columbus Crew-Santos Laguna tilt in Mexico made Mejia look like Pierluigi Collina.
Andy Iro scored for the Crew in the 22nd minute. After Santos players accosted Rodriguez, he waved off the goal. The pass to Iro had come from teammate Emilio Renteria, who Rodriguez said had not come back onto the field with a proper shirt, even though replays showed the ref waving Renteria into the play.
The reason Renteria was off and had to change shirts? To be bandaged after his head was cut open by an elbow from Santos' Oribe Peralta. It was a blatant red-card foul, and it went unpunished.
It was a joke, made all the more infuriating when Santos scored the winning goal in injury time.
Real Salt Lake also felt officiating pain. Less than a minute into its game with Cruz Azul in Mexico City Wednesday, Canadian Will Johnson was robbed of a goal by a terrible offside decision.
Later, in a driving rainstorm that turned the home pitch into a floodplain which made dribbling the ball a chore, Alvaro Saborio scored twice and added an assist as RSL took a 3-1 lead deep into the second half.
But Javier Orozco scored his second, third and fourth goals of the game in quick succession to give Cruz Azul a stunning lead.
Incredibly, Johnson scored to tie the game in injury time.
Unfortunately, for RSL, there was still about a minute to play, and Christian Gimenez raced down the field and snatched an incredible winner in a 5-4 classic.
All four teams in Group A are tied with 1-1-0 records, with even goal differences.