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Usually, when an official’s call doesn’t go his team’s way, Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes is on the sidelines, unable to get a good, immediate look at the play in question.
But for the first time in a Major League Soccer game since Aug. 1, 2009, Vermes — who was in the league’s COVID safety protocols and couldn’t be on the sidelines Wednesday night — watched the match from home, on TV, as Sporting KC played the San Jose Earthquakes to a 1-1 draw at Children’s Mercy Park.
For once, he got to see a plethora of camera angles from the broadcast crew. And on one play in particular, those angles made Vermes fume with anger.
In the 87th minute and with Sporting down 1-0, SKC foward Johnny Russell was judged to have been fouled by Earthquakes defender Shea Salinas in the 18-yard box. He clearly tripped from Salinas’ tackle attempt but did not fall to the ground as he aimed to continue the play.
Before Russell could keep the play in motion, though, head official Joseph Dickerson signaled for a penalty kick ... but then went to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to watch the replay and see if a clear and obvious error had been made.
The final decision overturned the call and took away the penalty. Possession was then given to San Jose despite the fact that it was an Earthquakes foul that led to the stoppage in the first place — as well as the fact that Russell still had possession when the whistle blew.
The entire sequence sparked an impassioned post-game rant from an irate Vermes, who attended the post-match news conference virtually after assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin had taken his place on the sidelines.
“Complete cluster. That’s what it was, a complete cluster,” Vermes said. “And I’ll tell you exactly why, because if you’re not calling a penalty, right, Johnny still has the ball. Completely takes the possession away from us and allows (San Jose) off the hook, number one. Number two is (that when) you call a penalty, the rule is it has to be clear and obvious. There’s no doubt in my mind that player hits Johnny Russell. Hits him! Hits him! How you call that back, I have absolutely zero idea.
“Complete cluster. Disrespect to our team, to the efforts put in by everybody everyday, to the fan base. It’s disrespectful. It’s just, I can’t even, I can’t understand it.”
The Professional Referee Organization (PRO), which oversees officiating in pro soccer leagues in the U.S., released statements following the match. They addressed both the overturned penalty and the decision to award San Jose possession afterward.
In terms of the call itself, PRO simply referred back to the fact it was up to the referee’s discretion.
“The penalty kick awarded to Sporting Kansas City in 86:50 was overturned as the VAR recommended an on-field review for a clear and obvious error,” the statement read. “Upon reviewing the incident again, the referee agreed the penalty kick was clearly wrong and reversed his decision.”
As for the decision to award the Earthquakes possession, PRO cited the International Football Association Board’s Laws of the Game, the international standard rule set by which most leagues worldwide, including MLS, abide. Rule 8.2 of the laws states that for a dropped ball procedure that, “The ball is dropped for the defending team goalkeeper in their penalty area if, when play was stopped ... the ball was in the penalty area or the last touch of the ball was in the penalty area,” regardless of which team last had possession.
It’s a different scenario than in all other cases, where “the referee drops the ball for one player of the team that last touched the ball at the position where it last touched a player, an outside agent or, as outlined in Law 9.1, a match official.” The penalty kick was no longer the decision after VAR, so Rule 8.2 went into action.
In short, while Vermes had a reasonable complaint about the penalty kick not being upheld, possession being given to San Jose after the review was the correct call, in terms of the rules. That didn’t stop Vermes from being critical of the entire night’s officiating.
The teams combined for 35 assessed fouls, seven yellow cards and a red card issued to the Earthquakes’ Judson in second-half stoppage time. Sporting midfielder Cameron Duke drew eight fouls all by himself, tying the highest single-game mark for one player in MLS this season.
“What I say to you is that (I’m) very, very disappointed,” Vermes said. “Very, very disappointed. I thought the officiating of the game was below average, simple as can be. That play was horrible.”
Daniel Salloi pushed in his eighth goal of the season in the fourth minute of second-half added time, snatching a draw and a point for Sporting when he tapped in Russell’s late free kick.
Salloi, like Vermes, had strong opinions about the officiating.
“I’ve never seen that many bad calls in a game. Honestly, it’s shocking,” Salloi said. “... Obviously, referees can have bad games, too. We’re just lucky it wasn’t our game. Not making excuses, we should still get three points at home, and we should still beat this team because we are better. But things happen.”