Fabian Espindola was angry. Ben Olsen was angry. D.C. United's front office was angry. And we the fans were angry. Angry men and women, yearning to be free of sports injustice, and rightly so.
Sure, it was just soccer. But this was D.C. United vs. the New York Red Bulls. Good vs. Evil. Ben Olsen vs. Mike Petke. 13 trophies vs. 1. The Atlantic Cup holders vs. the Atlantic Cup losers. This was a chance for D.C. United to extend their lead in the Eastern Conference and go on an improbable run toward the Supporters' Shield. Yeah, it was just sports, but it felt like so much more. Collectively, across D.C. United nation, we, men and women, young and old, D.C. United fans all, lifted a digital chorus of anger and shock in the aftermath of the 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey. Metaphorically, it felt like Enjolras and his company of friends in the June Rebellion as told in Les Miserables.
- Steven Goff, via washingtonpost.com: "D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen lingered on the field for 20 minutes after the 1-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, in part to salute traveling supporters and greet family but also to cool down after an emotional and infuriating night. Olsen seethed over a red card to Fabian Espindola in the 32nd minute, a decision by referee Mark Geiger that altered the trajectory of the tense match between bitter rivals and forced United to absorb relentless pressure the entire second half."
- ChestRockwell: "United, Red Bulls, Geiger, red card. It's happened before: In a legendary 2012 playoff match, Geiger sent Bill Hamid off for a foul on Kenny Cooper, ordered the retake of a converted Red Bulls penalty kick - a retake was then saved by substitute goalkeeper Joe Willis - and then needed two red card-worthy offenses from Rafael Marquez before sending the Mexican defender off. On that cold night, Geiger got every call right. Hamid's foul denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity, the first NYRB penalty involved massive encroachment by Thierry Henry, and Marquez both punched Chris Pontius and hit him with a dangerous studs-up tackle. It was, quite frankly, an outstanding performance in an environment that had threatened to boil over throughout. Tonight, however, Geiger's decision was the wrong one."
- Franco Panizo, via mlssoccer.com: "A heroic performance from Bill Hamid had a 10-man D.C. United team on the brink of securing a hard-fought road point, but Lloyd Sam came through late to lift the New York Red Bulls past their archrivals. Just as the Red Bulls looked ready to settle for a frustrating draw at Red Bull Arena, Sam donned the hero's cape and scored a 90th-minute winner to give New York a 1-0 win on Wednesday night. The goal came only after Hamid had thwarted a bevy of quality chances from New York, who were up a man after Fabian Espindola was controversially sent off with a straight red card in the 32nd minute."
- Pablo Maurer, via mlssoccer.com: "But it was a controversial red card by referee Mark Geiger that stole the show at Red Bull Arena, leaving United down a man for nearly two thirds of the match and sending DC head coach Ben Olsen into a tizzy...Olsen was a bit more reserved with his criticism after the match than he was during it - ESPN cameras caught the fiery head coach berating the officiating crew multiple times throughout the encounter - but he still had plenty to say...This wasn't United's first run-in with a Geiger-related controversy. Olsen felt hard done during a match against the Philadelphia Union in 2012 - after which he famously referred to the officiating as "the Geiger show" and suggested that the ref - who this summer became the first American to officiate a World Cup elimination match - sometimes likes to put his stamp on games."
- Austin Fido, via onceametro.com: "Fabian Espindola's red card in the 32nd minute wasn't the turning point of the match - RBNY had the upper hand before it happened - but it did give Ben Olsen what he was looking for: a grudge to nurture and use to extract a dogged, determined, dammit-we're-leaving-here-with-a-point performance from his shorthanded team. Referee Mark Geiger caught a lot heat from the players on the field, from the rage-fueled gnome in a DC United tracksuit on the sideline, and from everyone working the DCU hashtag on Twitter for his decision. In fairness to those who were enraged, it did appear to be more a case of Dax McCarty running into Espindola's boot than a kick. In fairness to Mark Geiger, a kick to the chest is the most famous foul of the last four years. There isn't a referee of professional standard in the world who doesn't remember the 2010 World Cup final."
- MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match, via mlssoccer.com:
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Lloyd Sam||His could be the most important goal of the season for NY, who jump back into the playoff picture|
|2||Bill Hamid||Nealry single-handedly got a point for DC, with his last save one of the best of the year|
|3||Dax McCarty||One of the brighter spots on a lethargic side, kept the ball moving forward all game|
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: On the Red Card. "I got to look at it again, but to me it's a soccer play that happens all the time where you go in - and Fabian plays with this heart - he goes in for a challenge. It's just poor. And again, I haven't seen it again, but it's just poor, and then it just ruins the game; it's so disappointing. It's just a shame. To me it's just a shame the game had to play out that way...It's such a gutsy performance from this team. They're a bunch of grinders and they know how to do that and I'm proud of them tonight. I'm disappointed for them, again because of the call, and I'm disappointed that they couldn't get something from what was a hell of an effort from the guys."
- New York Red Bulls coach Mike Petke, via dcunited.com: On the rivalry and if he worried the match would get out of hand. "I hoped it did [get out of hand] to be honest with you because I miss the really old school rivalry from when I first came into the league, you know I don't see it anymore. Tonight was maybe the first indication that there was maybe a little dislike and I miss it. Obviously I'm half joking here, but no I think it is good for the league, I think it's good for the teams and I think a rivalry is great. Ben's [Olsen] a passionate guy, I'm a passionate guy, passionate guys on the team as we saw today, so I was afraid that at the end of the first half when Roy [Miller] got into it with I think it was Sean Franklin, that it was going to give the officials an excuse to even it out again and I certainly didn't want that."
- Bill Hamid, via dcunited.com: "We got to take from this game all the heart. We got to take that and run with that. Like I said it was a great effort by us. Like I said they have star-power all over the field, they know where their runs are going, a lot of dummies from the first forward checking into the second forward and playing that first forward back, and we held strong. We dealt with everything that they were throwing at us and I tip my hats to my teammates today. To hold a team like this until the last minute - great effort."
- New York Red Bulls midfielder Lloyd Sam, via dcunited.com: On D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid. "Yeah, I was just saying to [Red Bulls forward] Thierry [Henry] that the save he pulled off from [Henry] with the strong hand was a great save. [Hamid] seems to do this all the time against us. He must love playing us. He makes a lot of saves playing against us. It's good to beat them. They've beaten us twice this season. That's what we were talking about before the game so we're happy to get three points."
- Chris Pontius, via dcunited.com: On the D.C. vs. Red Bull rivalry. "It's great. It's the one that you mark on the calendar at the beginning of the year and you look forward to it, whether it's them coming to us or us coming up here. There's a lot of history behind these teams and I'm fortunate to be involved in a lot of these games, I always look forward to them. It was two quality teams going at it tonight. Unfortunately, you didn't get to see eleven players v. eleven, instead it was ten v. eleven."
Two days after the injustice in New Jersey, a new day has dawned, and as the lyrics to the song remind us, life starts again and we move on.
Yes, America's best referee made a mistake. A bad mistake. A mistake glaring enough that Dax McCarty, the player fouled by Fabian Espindola, even said a red card wasn't appropriate. Then, America's best referee compounded the problem by allowing Roy Miller to go unpunished after grabbing Davy Arnaud's neck in a choking position.
I'm a fan of Mark Geiger, and thought he was superb in the World Cup, but I was most surprised on Wednesday night that he didn't take moment to consult with his Assistant Referees. He may have still come to the same (wrong) conclusion about the Espindola foul, but he might also have made a better call. Perhaps it's his decisiveness which makes him a world-class referee, but on Wednesday night he reached for the red card too quickly.
But Geiger's performance shouldn't overshadow the incredible night Bill Hamid had, or the joy of Chris Pontius' return, or the well-played hour while down a man, or the solidarity of D.C. United fans in support of the team.
The Last Word:
As the initial heat of Wednesday night's anger has subsided, we find D.C. United remains 5 points ahead of Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference, having played the same number of games. The Black-and-Red remain firmly in control of their own destiny in the East, and both the #1 playoff seed and the automatic berth in the 2015-2016 CONCACAF Champions League are there for the taking.
For a team which has played so well this season, normally characterized by discipline and focus, the one dumbfounding statistic is the total number of points D.C. United has dropped in the final 15 minutes of matches (plus stoppage time) this season. From the 76th minute on, United has dropped a net of 9 points (or three full wins!) so far in 2014. To be precise, I've included Fabian Espindola's missed penalty kick in the 95th minute against the Columbus Crew on this list since it should have been a guaranteed 3 points once the PK was called.
|Date||Home Team||Visiting Team||Goal Scorer||Minute||Final Result||DCU Points Dropped/Gained|
|8-Mar-14||D.C. United||Columbus Crew||Federico Higuain (CLB)||90'||0-3||0|
|29-Mar-14||D.C. United||Chicago Fire||Quincy Amarikwa (Chi)||82'||2-2||-2|
|5-Apr-14||D.C. United||New England Revolution||Chris Rolfe (DCU)||90'+3'||2-0||0|
|19-Apr-14||Columbus Crew||D.C. United||Hector Jimenez (CLB)||90'||1-1||-2|
|3-May-14||Portland Timbers||D.C. United||Own Goal against POR (Mamadou Danso)||78'||2-3||0|
|3-May-14||Portland Timbers||D.C. United||Maximiliano Urruti (POR)||90'+4'||2-3||-1|
|17-May-14||D.C. United||Montreal Impact||Eddie Johnson (DCU)||84'||1-1||1|
|24-May-14||New England Revolution||D.C. United||Diego Fagundez (NER)||77'||1-2||-1|
|7-Jun-14||D.C. United||Columbus Crew||Fabian Espindola (DCU, missed PK)||90'+5'||0-0||-2|
|3-Aug-14||Houston Dynamo||D.C. United||Will Bruin||90'+1'||0-1||-1|
|17-Aug-14||D.C. United||Colorado Rapids||Chris Rolfe (DCU)||81'||4-2||0|
|17-Aug-14||D.C. United||Colorado Rapids||Fabian Espindola (DCU)||86'||4-2||0|
|17-Aug-14||D.C. United||Colorado Rapids||Deshorn Brown (COL)||90'+1'||4-2||0|
|31-Aug-14||D.C. United||New York Red Bulls||Eddie Johnson (DCU)||90'+1'||2-0||0|
|10-Sep-14||New York Red Bulls||D.C. United||Lloyd Sam (NYRB)||90'||0-1||-1|
I can't explain why D.C. United has dropped points in the final stages of matches this season. They've played with the lead during a lot of games this year so their chances to score late-game goals to change a result have been less than other teams, but it is surprising United has only scored one goal after the 75th minute which has actually changed the result of the game (Eddie Johnson's 84th minute goal against the Montreal Impact on May 17th which led to a 1-1 draw).
Now we move on to next week's game in Jamaica against Waterhouse FC, and then back on the road again at the Chicago Fire. Let's channel the anger, turn it in a positive direction, and change the lyrics just like they do in Les Mis:
Has the sun risen on your anger yet? What's the key to D.C. United getting refocused on CCL foe Waterhouse FC?