When Ned Grabavoy drew a penalty kick for Real Salt Lake Saturday, Brian Dunseth made it clear that Portland’s Rodney Wallace had committed a red card offense and should have been ejected.
According to the Laws of the Game, he was right. But the referee pointed to the spot and issued a yellow card instead. This call nearly cost Real Salt Lake the match.
Still, this is the call I would prefer to see all season.
A red card almost universally changes a match. RSL fans know all too well the damage an erroneous red can cause.
Nat Borchers saw the most egregious red last season in a wild 3-3 match against the New England Revolution. Tony Beltran and Will Johnson both received questionable red cards as well. Add to that a couple questionable penalty kicks, and Real Salt Lake can probably identify 10 points that were lost to poor officiating last season.
In a perfect world, all red cards and penalty kicks would need to be confirmed by the 4th official through video review, but the decision-makers at FIFA are so slow to adapt that they’re likely still using VHS tapes.
Given these realities, Major League Soccer officials can lessen the problem by acting like they did Saturday night. When the option to present a red card and a penalty kick arises, the referee should only give one unless he had a clear angle indicating it was the correct call. One of these penalties is hard enough on a side. Both, especially when undeserved, are nearly insurmountable. Referees should err against giving red cards in these situations, instead opting for a yellow card and a penalty.
It may not be pleasant in the short term, but it will certainly prevent bigger problems going forward.