Soccer

deVos: Toronto FC undone by lack of finish not officiating

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Jason deVos
7/27/2014 11:39:13 AM
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Toronto FC lost its sixth game of the season on Saturday evening at BMO Field in Toronto, dropping a 2-1 decision to Sporting Kansas City. The game had many controversial incidents that, upon closer inspection, were not as controversial as many believed.

The Formations

Toronto FC lined up in its usual 4-4-2 formation, with Nick Hagglund slotting in at right fullback and Bradley Orr at centreback in place of the injured Mark Bloom and Steven Caldwell, respectively. No Jermain Defoe – TFC's leading goal scorer was suspended for the game after he picked up his fifth yellow card of the season last week against Houston – meant that Luke Moore was partnered by Gilberto in attack.

The visitors lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Graham Zusi and CJ Sapong flanking leading goal scorer Dom Dwyer in a 3-man attack. Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin anchored the league's leading defence.

The Game

Toronto FC played very well in the opening 45 minutes. Jackson and Dominic Oduro provided pace and power down the flanks, while Moore and Gilberto linked well with central midfielders Michael Bradley and Collen Warner. The front six did not allow Sporting KC to settle into the game, which threw the visitors off their game.

Benny Feilhaber – usually at the heart of everything Sporting KC build through midfield – had a difficult time dictating the tempo of the game in the opening half. Both Bradley and Warner worked hard to close space in the middle of the park, which frustrated the visitors into turnovers or into playing low percentage balls forward. As a result, Toronto FC's back line – including goalkeeper Joe Bendik – was never really tested.

Toronto FC scored the opening goal of the game in the 16th minute, with Jackson converting a fantastic through ball from Dominic Oduro. It was arguably Oduro's best game in a TFC jersey, and he gave left fullback Seth Sinovic a torrid time in the opening half.

The fans at BMO Field felt aggrieved in the 23rd minute when Sporting KC defender Collin appeared to have clipped Gilberto as the Brazilian attempted to latch on to an excellent Bradley through ball. Had the referee called a foul on Collin, he would have been left with no alternative but to show the Frenchman a red card as he clearly denied Gilberto an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

Slow motion replays appeared to show that Collin made contact with Gilberto – but even after watching every replay angle available, it was hard to make a definitive judgment that Collin had kicked Gilberto. Given that the referee had just one live look at the play – remember, he doesn't have the luxury of video replay - it is understandable that he would be hesitant to call a foul. In that situation, a foul requires a red card to be shown. If the referee is not sure that a foul has been committed, then he cannot make that call.

And herein lies the difficulty in officiating. The referee gets just one look - at full speed – where he has to be certain that what he sees is a foul if he is to blow his whistle.

This was not an easy game to officiate. Both teams were flying into challenges, and the speed of Jackson and Oduro was causing problems for Sporting KC. The latter would be directly involved in two controversial decisions made in the second half.

After the go-ahead goal, TFC struck the base of the right post on two separate occasions. The first came from a Hagglund header, while the second came from the right boot of Oduro. Had their finishing been more clinical, TFC could have easily led at the break by a wider margin than just the single goal.

The second half was eventful, to say the least. Sporting KC equalized in the 48th minute, as Graham Zusi fired home after some desperate defending and mass confusion in the TFC penalty area. The absence of Caldwell, in particular, was noticeable for TFC, as he is often the calming influence during moments of chaos at the back. Without him in the lineup to steady the ship, TFC always looked vulnerable to conceding in the second half.

At the other end of the pitch, Dominic Oduro was proving to be a real handful.

In the 69th minute, after a clever ball over the top from Gilberto, Oduro raced down the right flank beyond fullback Igor Julião. Knowing he wouldn't catch the speedy winger, the young Brazilian reached out and grabbed a handful of Oduro's jersey, sending the TFC man sprawling. As Julião was the last defender between Oduro and the Sporting KC goal, Toronto fans, players and coaches all expected the referee to show Julião a red card. When only a yellow card was shown, every TFC fan inside BMO Field was incensed.

However, the referee made the correct call.

FIFA Law 12 states the following:

There are two sending-off offences that deal with denying an opponent an obvious opportunity to score a goal:
- if a player denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball.
- if a player denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by a free kick (direct or indirect) or a penalty kick.

While Julião was indeed the last defender between Oduro and the Sporting KC goal, consider the position of both Oduro and the ball when the foul was committed. Oduro pushed the ball well ahead of himself; not only was it far in front of Oduro, but more importantly, it was wide of the Sporting KC penalty area. Oduro still had to catch up to the ball and then carry it into the penalty area in order for it to be considered an "obvious goal-scoring opportunity".

Both Mikey Lopez and Lawrence Olum, the nearest Sporting KC defenders, would have attempted to cut off Oduro's path to goal. While Oduro is exceptionally fast, the referee clearly judged that Lopez would have been able to challenge Oduro by closing down his angle of approach to goal; hence the decision that this was not an "obvious goal-scoring opportunity".

Now, had the foul by Julião been committed in the centre of the field, meaning that Oduro would have had a straight run at goal rather than an angled approach from outside the width of the penalty area, then yes, Julião would have been denying Oduro an "obvious goal-scoring opportunity". But as the sequence of events played out, this was not the case.

Minutes later, there was yet another controversial decision.

Sporting KC defender Matt Besler was shown his second yellow card of the game for a foul on Oduro, earning Besler a subsequent red card. Again, a strong case can be made that it was the correct call from the referee.

After Oduro pushed the ball past Besler, the defender attempted to tackle Oduro, sending the TFC midfielder flying to the grass. While the foul itself wasn't an especially aggressive one, the yellow card may have been shown for "persistent infringement".

Oduro received rough treatment all night from Sporting KC, who committed 21 fouls in the game. Given that eight of the 21 fouls were committed against Oduro, the referee was certainly within his rights to consider these fouls "persistent".

From FIFA Law 12:

Referees should be alert at all times to players who persistently infringe the Laws. In particular, they must be aware that even if a player commits a number of different offences, he must still be cautioned for persistently infringing the Laws.

There is no specific number of infringements which constitutes "persistence" or the presence of a pattern – this is entirely a matter of judgement and must be reached in the context of effective game management.

As I wrote earlier, this was a difficult game to officiate, as both teams were committing numerous fouls. Given the nature of the game, it is not surprising that Besler was shown a second yellow card for what was yet another foul on Oduro.

Still, 10-man Sporting KC found a way to score the winning goal. A clever little drag back from Dwyer to substitute Jacob Peterson in the 80th minute left the former TFC man with the task of beating Joe Bendik from inside the TFC penalty area. Peterson's finish was crisp, and despite their best efforts to find an equalizer in the last 10 minutes of the game, TFC were left to rue a number of missed chances as they fell to defeat.

The Good

There were very good performances all around from Toronto FC in the opening 45 minutes. Hagglund, Oduro, Jackson, Henry, Moore, Warner – virtually every player performed as Ryan Nelsen would have hoped. That Joe Bendik had so little to do in the first half speaks to how well the players in front of him controlled the tempo of the game.

The Bad

Both of the Sporting KC goals were sloppy from Toronto's perspective. Some will point to the fact that both Mark Bloom and Steven Caldwell were missing through injury as an excuse, but if TFC wants to be considered alongside the likes of Sporting KC as contenders in the Eastern Conference, they need to have more defensive resolve when not at full strength.

The number of missed chances is cause for concern, as well. With no Jermain Defoe in the lineup, no one else looked likely to score for Toronto. Jackson could have had a hat-trick himself, but was very wasteful in front of goal.

The Star Man

Dominic Oduro caused Sporting KC problems all night – so much so that head coach Peter Vermes had to introduce the quicker Kevin Ellis to deal with Oduro's pace in the second half. More performances like that from Oduro will further underline the good business being done by the club in the transfer market.

Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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