Ben Olsen said that the story of D.C. United vs. Toronto FC game shouldn't be about the referee, but by going the unprecedented route of issuing an official statement after the match, I feel that the referee just became the story.
Maybe a more experienced media member or a fellow SB Nation blog manager can correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think its commonplace in any way for referees to issue written statements after a match. And yet I received an email from the D.C. United Communications group just over an hour after the final whistle.
But before I publish it, I want to make very clear that I'm only taking issue with Toronto's second goal, not the red card to Bill Hamid. I happened to agree with the red card because Hamid's challenge was unnecessarily violent and he had no chance of getting the ball. I was in a room with several veteran soccer reporters, many of whom happen to also be accredited U.S. Soccer referees, and the room was split 50-50 on the card. It was questionable. Could have gone either way. It happened to go against us this time.
Now then. Here's the official statement from referee Jasen Anno:
Clarification of sequence of events for the substitution of D.C. United player, McDonald (out), White (in) in the 69th minute:
In the 66th minute D.C. United player, McDonald left the field of play due to injury and did not return. Play was restarted with a drop ball. After roughly two minutes of play, the fourth official notified the referee for the next available substitution for D.C. United. The next stoppage was a throw-in for Toronto in the 69th minute. Play was stopped and the referee beckoned the substitute, D.C. United player, White on to the field. At that moment, the Senior Assistant Referee and the fourth official told the player to enter the field of play, which he did. Play was restarted with the whistle and the ball was put into play by Toronto.
With a statement that reeks so heavily of excuses and a complete failure to acknowledge any sort of error whatsoever, I feel I must respond. My response contains both video, and a first-hand account of the situation from Ethan White himself.
In this video, you see referee Jasen Anno appears to be indicating to the Toronto player to wait on taking the throw-in while he waves for the substitution to occur, but TFC takes the throw anyway, and all hell breaks lose. United is disorganized and fails to mark Julian de Guzman, who has all the time in the world to deliver a knuckleball (in the words of Steve Cronin) into United's net. (CSN-Washington has video here.)
And now here's the complete word-for-word transcription of our conversation with Ethan White in the locker room after the match. He told the story eloquently and with complete confidence, and I tend to believe him more than the referee's statement.
The play has to stop when there's a sub. I mean, Brandon's off the field, but I'm not returning on the field. You don't wave me on. You've gotta stop play. I'm not even sure what to say right now. Unbelievable.
The fourth official was screaming at him to stop play. And then I just sprinted on the field because play hadn't stopped, so I took it upon myself to run on the field. But by the time I took three steps, the ball's in the back of the net.
He said he waved me on, but I'm not returning back on the field. You wave on an injured player that's returning back on the field. I was never on the field. So [the referee is supposed to] stop play and wait for me to get in my position. Whether I'm a forward or a goalie or a center back, you're supposed to wait and let me get back in goal. If I'm a goalie you're not gonna wave on and play and let them kick it in the back of the goal.
I can think of two explanations for why this happened as it did. I don't think Anno was specifically out to screw D.C. United by any stretch, but as you might guess, I take issue with both of the possible explanations. They are:
The referee thought that Ethan White was Brandon McDonald. He thought that the injured player was returning back onto the field, which would mean that it would be acceptable for Anno to wave him on while play continues. Aside from the racially insensitive nature of this explanation, I don't think its true for a couple reasons. First, McDonald left the far corner of the field, and was walking back behind the goal. Since he's a center back, if he was going to return onto the field, it makes no sense that he would return from the bench. Secondly, the fourth official was holding up the substitution board with the numbers "2" and "15" on it. That's a substitution, dude, not a player returning from injury.
- The referee thought Ethan White was a forward. Easy mistake since White played forward for a few minutes last week. That must be what the referee was thinking, right? Nope. But even if he did think White was a forward, the rules don't change, as White pointed out. He can't just wave him on since he's a forward who wouldn't likely be involved in the ensuing play at the other end of the field. He has to let the substitute get into position before play resumes.
Those are the only two realistic explanations I can come up with. Note that neither of those explanations are what was contained in the referee's official statement - a statement that clearly disagrees with White's summary of what took place.
I'm not normally much of an apologist. And I still think the three goals that United gave up had more to do with goalkeeping mistakes from both our keepers than any single referee's decision. But I have a sinking feeling that this might be the match we look back on in November when United misses the playoffs by one point.